Although ethnic tension between the Mizo and Bru communities in Mizoram over the November 23 kidnapping of three men has subsided substantially with last week’s release of two men (both Mizos), underlying restiveness continues to surface as the state’s powerful community-based Mizo groups, students’ unions and political parties held three separate meetings Tuesday.
The meetings focussed on the issue of Deep Mandal’s (the third kidnapped man) continued captivity by National Liberation Front of Tripura cadres and Bru militants, with four opposition parties including the BJP pledging to participate in a mass voluntary search operation for Mandal planned for February 5 and 6.
Community-based organisations including the Young Mizo Association, women’s group MHIP, Mizo elders’ grouping MUP and the powerful Mizo Zirlai Pawl, a students’ organisation have also called on the state government to ensure the quick release of Mandal, a 25-year-old telecommunications professional believed to be held in the jungles of eastern Bangladesh and for whose release the abductors have demanded a ransom of Rs 5 crores.
These groups also called for the removal of around 11,000 Brus living in six Tripura relief camps from Mizoram’s electoral rolls ahead of the Lok Sabha elections. The Mizo Students’ Union, another group, has also pledged to boycott the upcoming polls if the Election Commission of India does not do so.
An estimated 5000-odd internally displaced Bru families that fled Mizoram in 1997 following ethnic conflict have voting rights in Mizoram, and the ECI had in the last assembly elections organised special postal ballots for them, a move community-based Mizo groups resent arguing these families have refused to return in spite of an ongoing repatriation process that has so far seen just 1000-odd families returning home more than three years after it began.
A senior Bru leader based in Mizoram said community leaders are meeting Wednesday to discuss the repatriation process, including when it can be resumed. The Bru leaders are instrumental in the process (exxecuted by the Tiura and Mizoram governments along with the Union Home Ministry) as they are the ones who coordinate with families in the six relief camps who want to return to Mizoram.
Meanwhile, police in Mizoram’s western Mamit district said they were contacted by Bru leader A Sawibunga, who lives in Tripura’s Naisingpara Bru relief camp and who was quoted by a national newspaper as saying Mizos had burned down more than a dozen houses and physically assaulted Bru youths in mid-January, leading to an exodus of scores of Bru families to Tripura as ethnic tension soared over the kidnappings.
A police officer said Sawibunga telephoned an investigator Tuesday, where he reiterated he had not made any such comments and that he would ask the newspaper to carry a corrigendum even as the newspaper, the officer said, stood by the news report. Sawibunga’s cellphone remained switched off as The Indian Express attempted to contact him for comment Tuesday.
A Mizo group had filed an FIR against Sawibunga for making the allegations. The police investigation is based on that complaint. At the same time, Mamit district police are also investigating the burning down of a kacha house occupied by a Bru family at the outskirts of Mamit town late on Monday night. The family of three was not at home at the time and there were no casualties. Police said they have found no clues yet as to the cause of the fire.