On Tuesday, when the Home Ministry announced that a “historic agreement” had been signed among the governments of Mizoram and Tripura and the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum, it brought to an end a 21-year wait for over 32,000 Bru tribals, who had been displaced from Mizoram and were living in Tripura. Although the Brus have been seeking relief on the lines of that given to Kashmiri Pandits and Sri Lankan Tamil refugees, their story is not as well known:
Bru (or Reang) tribals inhabit parts of some Northeastern states. In Mizoram, they are largely restricted to Mamit and Kolasib districts.
In 1995, following a clash between Mizos and Brus, the Young Mizo Association and Mizo Students’ Association demanded that Brus be removed from the state’s electoral rolls, contending that the tribe was not indigenous to Mizoram. This led to an armed movement led by the militant outfit Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF), and a political one by the Bru National Union (BNU).
On October 21, 1997, BNLF militants killed a forest official in Mizoram, leading to retaliatory ethnic violence. The BNU, which was demanding an autonomous tribal district, claimed that 1,391 Bru houses in 41 villages were burnt down and several people were raped and killed. Mizoram police put the number of homes torched at 325 in 16 villages, and did not confirm rape or murder.
A large number of Bru families fled to North Tripura. Thousands of families, with some 30,000 members, were given shelter in six relief camps in Kanchanpur and Panisagar subdivisions.
The first phase of repatriation started in November 2010, when 1,622 Bru families with 8,573 members were resettled in Mizoram. The process was stalled in 2011, 2012 and 2015 amid protests by Mizo NGOs. Brus settled in Tripura also expressed fears for their security in Mizoram. Since 1997, the Centre has given financial assistance of Rs 348.97 crore to Tripura for relief and rehabilitation, and Rs 68.90 crore to Mizoram for the resettlement of 8,573 persons.
The latest peace deal was brokered over three years, starting in 2015. It involved a joint monitoring committee with members of civil society groups including Young Mizo Association and Mizo Students’ Association, and representatives of the state governments and the Home Ministry.
A financial package of Rs 435 crore was agreed on. It covers 5,407 Bru families (32,876 members). Each family will be given a one-time assistance of Rs 4 lakh — to be kept in fixed deposit within one month of repatriation — and cash assistance of Rs 5,000 per month through direct benefits transfer, as well as free rations for two years. Rs 1.5 lakh will be provided as house building assistance, in three instalments.
For security, the Centre has asked the Mizoram government to create police posts and border outposts. The Home Ministry will sanction funds for setting up the checkposts. The Tripura government will ensure that Aadhaar cards are issued, bank accounts opened and ration cards updated for each Bru migrant before September 30, 2018.
The package includes a special development project, Eklavya residential schools, access to jhum cultivation land, permanent residential certificates and ST certificates, and free transportation from Tripura to Mizoram.
The displaced families had demanded land at one location, which Mizoram rejected. An agreement was reached that they will be relocated to the villages from where they had been displaced.
They will vote
The development comes ahead of elections in Mizoram, the only non-BJP-ruled state in the Northeast. It also means Mizoram’s electoral rolls will have to updated. “The verification of Bru migrants by the government of Mizoram was done on the basis of electoral rolls of 1996, last updated in 2014. In the past, 8,573 Bru migrants were identified and repatriated in six batches,” Home Ministry joint secretary (Northeast) Satyendra Garg said.