A quadripartite agreement allowed some 35,000 Bru tribal people, who were displaced from Mizoram and are living in Tripura as refugees since 1997, to settle permanently in Tripura.
- The Centre, State governments of Tripura and Mizoram, and representatives of Bru organisations signed the agreement in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
- The agreement, allowing 30,000 Bru tribals to permanently settle in Tripura, took 20 years and nine attempts in the making
Who are the Brus and how did they become internally displaced?
- The Brus, are spread across Tripura, Mizoram and southern Assam. In Mizoram, they are scattered in Kolasib, Lunglei and Mamit districts.
- In Tripura they are known as Reangs, they are ethnically different from the Mizos, with their own distinct language and dialect and form one of the 21 scheduled tribes of Tripura.
- In Tripura, they are recognised as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group.
- In Mizoram, they are largely referred to by other tribes as ‘Tuikuk’.
- Mizos and Kukis, on the other hand share close linguistic and cultural ties and were usually referred to as Kuki-Lushai tribes in colonial times (Lushai or Lusei is the most prominent clan in what is now the Mizo community).
- While many Brus of Assam and Tripura are Hindu, the Brus of Mizoram converted to Christianity over the years.
- Clashes in 1995 with the majority Mizos led to the demand for the removal of the Brus, perceived to be non-indigenous, from Mizoram’s electoral rolls.
- This led to an armed movement by a Bru outfit, which killed a Mizo forest official in October 1997 in the Dampa Tiger Reserve
- The retaliatory ethnic violence saw more than 40,000 Brus fleeing to adjoining Tripura where they took shelter in six relief camps.
- These clashes led to the Brus’ demand for an Autonomous District Council (ADC), under the 6th Schedule of the Constitution, in western Mizoram, where they were the more dominant lot, outnumbering the ethnic Mizo population.
- Since then, 5,000 have returned to Mizoram in nine phases of repatriation, while 32,000 still live in six relief camps in North Tripura.
Efforts to repatriate Brus
- Tripura is keen that the Brus return to Mizoram, since they add to the sizeable tribal population, and because the land occupied by the relief camps is owned by domicile tribals.
- The Centre and the two State governments involved made nine attempts to resettle the Brus in Mizoram.
- The first was in November 2010 when 1,622 Bru families with 8,573 members went back.
- Protests by Mizo NGOs, primarily the Young Mizo Association, stalled the process in 2011, 2012 and 2015.
- Meanwhile, the Brus began demanding relief on a par with the relief given to Kashmiri Pandits and Sri Lankan Tamil refugees.
- The camp residents say the repatriation package does not guarantee their safety in Mizoram.
- They have demanded resettlement in cluster villages, among other things.
- In June 2018, Bru leaders signed an agreement in Delhi with the Centre and the two state governments, providing for repatriation to Mizoram.
- Most residents of the camps, however, rejected the “insufficient” terms of the agreement.
Latest agreement to settle Bru refugees in Tripura
The demand to rehabilitate the Brus in Tripura was first raised by Pradyot Manikya, the scion of the Tripura royal family.
- He claimed that the Bru were originally from Tripura, and had migrated to Mizoram after their homes were flooded due to the commissioning of the Dumboor hydroelectric power project in South Tripura in 1976.
- Apart from their own Kaubru tongue, the Bru speak both Kokborok and Bangla, the two most widely spoken languages of the tribal and non-tribal communities of Tripura, and have an easy connection with the state.
- Their long stay in Tripura has also acquainted them very well with the state’s socio-political ecology.
- Hence the option to rehabilitate within Tripura must be explored.
Salient points of the new agreement
- All Bru currently living in temporary relief camps in Tripura will be settled in the state, if they want to stay on.
- The Bru who returned to Mizoram in the eight phases of repatriation since 2009, cannot come back to Tripura.
- To ascertain the numbers of those who will be settled, a fresh survey and physical verification of Bru families living in relief camps will be carried out.
- The Centre will implement a special development project for the resettled Bru.
- Each resettled family will get 0.03 acre (1.5 ganda) of land for building a home, Rs 1.5 lakh as housing assistance, and Rs 4 lakh as a one-time cash benefit for sustenance.
- They will also receive a monthly allowance of Rs 5,000, and free rations for two years from the date of resettlement.
- The beneficiaries will get housing assistance, but the state government will build their homes and hand over possession.
Implications of the Tripura resettlement
- The decision is a humanitarian from the point of view of the Brus, who were apprehensive about returning to Mizoram, but it could lead to conflicts with the locals of Tripura.
- Locals fear it could result in severe demographic imbalance, land crisis and social disturbance.
- It could set a bad precedent, encouraging ethnocentric states to eject minorities of all hues besides making the Brus of Mizoram opt for the rehabilitation package in the relative safety of Tripura.
- Conflicts between the Brus and the local Bengali non-tribal people have started taking place in Tripura.
- Since about 162 acres of land will be required it may result in the possibility of diverting forest lands, even reserve forest areas leading to environmental degradation
- Further diverting forest land for human settlements will need clearance from the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF)