Following reports of starvation deaths from Bru refugee camps in Tripura, the Centre has asked the Tripura government to ensure that every death —- irrespective of the cause stated by the family of the deceased — is followed by a postmortem.
Sources said the Centre believes that reports of starvation deaths are being exaggerated by the refugees as they do not want to leave the camps and go to Mizoram.
The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) has stopped ration allowance for Bru refugee camps from October as they were supposed to have shifted to Mizoram following an agreement signed between community leaders, the Centre and the governments of Tripura and Mizoram. However, after the reports of starvation deaths, the Tripura government has again started providing rations to the refugees.
“The ration supply was stopped because adequate arrangements were made in Mizoram in accordance with the package agreed to in the final settlement. The people must go back to Mizoram. However, since the refugees are alleging starvation deaths, it has been decided that every dead body will be sent for postmortem so that actual cause of death can be ascertained. These would include natural deaths as well,” a central government official said.
Sources in the Tripura government said that based on the claims of the refugees, ration supply has been started and the deadline for repatriation to Mizoram has been extended to November 30. “But we believe that these claims of starvation deaths are being made to put pressure on the government to let these camps continue. That is why we want a postmortem for every dead body. People are reluctant to shift to Mizoram. Some have genuine fear of persecution. Others are used to living here and do not want to begin a new life in Mizoram. There is also an element of local politics. Earlier, they would not even report normal deaths so as to continue getting the rations in the name of the deceased,” said a state government source.
Six members of the Reang or Bru community have reportedly died in relief camps in Tripura since October 1, after the Centre decided to stop food supplies and cash dole. They were among 32,000 Brus living in these camps since 1997, when they fled their homes in Mizoram. While community members have claimed that these were starvation deaths, the administration has denied the claims.
In June 2018, community leaders from the Bru camps signed an agreement in Delhi with the Centre and the two state governments, providing for repatriation in Mizoram. But most camp residents rejected the terms of the agreement as “insufficient”. Only 5,000 have gone back and the ongoing ninth phase has succeeded in sending back only about 700 of the remaining 32,000. The camp residents say the package does not guarantee their safety in Mizoram. They have demanded resettlement in cluster villages, among other things.
After a series of meetings over repatriation failed to make headway, the government suspended food supplies. It offered a final package, which expires on November 30: Rs 25,000 for each family that accepts the package and gets ready to be repatriated within two days. This did not find any takers either.
Rations were stopped twice in the past, including in October 2018. These decisions came right before a phase of repatriation was about to start.
Bru or Reang is a community indigenous to Northeast India, living mostly in Tripura, Mizoram and Assam. In Tripura, they are recognised as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group. In Mizoram, they have been targeted by groups that do not consider them indigenous to the state. In 1997, following ethic clashes, nearly 37,000 Brus fled Mamit, Kolasib and Lunglei districts of Mizoram and were accommodated in relief camps in Tripura. Since then, 5,000 have returned to Mizoram in eight phases of repatriation, while 32,000 still live in six relief camps in North Tripura.