Updated: August 10, 2018 10:27:28 am
A fresh demand for Area Development Council (ADC) in Mizoram raised by displaced Bru tribals sheltered in transit camps of Tripura ahead of November’s assembly elections in Mizoram is set to delay their repatriation.
L. Laldingliana, president of Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples’ Coordination Committee (MBDPCC), said all refugees in Tripura have demanded ADC for their security and development after return to Mizoram. He also said nobody will accept repatriation unless ADC is agreed upon.
The demand has received criticism and opposition from Young Mizo Association (YMA), an influential Mizo civil society.
Speaking to indianexpress.com over the telephone, YMA president Vanlalruata said, “We do not support any separatist demands like forming ADC. We don’t want to divide Mizoram into any segment or among different tribes.”
Around 170 km from Agartala, over 32,000 Reang displacement victims, who fled Mizoram after ethnic clashes in 1997, are living in six transit camps for the last 21 years. Seven phases of repatriation were held but many who accepted repatriation also came back during these years.
As a final offer, the Union Home Ministry signed a quadripartite agreement on July 3 this year with state governments of Mizoram and Tripura and Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples Forum (MBDPF) – a coordination body of Bru refugees here. The agreement offered to repatriate over 5,000 displaced families living in transit camps by September 30. Only the deal wasn’t welcome among the camp inmates.
Naushela Reang, 32, a Bru refugee living in Hezacherra camp at Kanchanpur of North Tripura district, said, “We are ready to go back home in Mizoram. But we shall go back only if all our demands are met. Otherwise, we will not go at any cost.”
He also said that previous governments in Mizoram did not take any initiative for repatriating them. “Congress government in Mizoram did not do anything for us. We will not vote for them this time. We will try our luck with others,” he said.
Bru refugees have also decided not to back down in their demand for ADC or ‘cluster village’ to make sure they don’t face further persecution once they are back home.
Achaksa Reang of Naisingpara camp says he won’t accept repatriation offer unless cluster village is not included as a component in the package. Another inmate, C Lalmawis Reang, said Bru refugee leaders signed the agreement without consulting all camp inmates. “We will die in these camps but will not go back unless our demands of cluster village, one-time lumpsum cash compensation, housing allowance and cluster villages are met,” he told indianexpress.com.
Jauserung Reang, a mother of three staying at Hezacherra camp, said she wants school, hospital, safe drinking water, electricity, doctors – all within a “big cluster village” in Mizoram if she accepted repatriation.
Jehanti Reang showed marks of old wounds on her legs and said she got them while running away from Mizoram 21 years back. “We live a hard life here in the camps. But what if we are attacked again in Mizoram? We want to live together. Cluster village is a must,” she said.
Jachuana, an MBDPF leader at Ashapara relief camp, said, “The demands were not included in the agreement. But refugees are reluctant to budge without fulfilling these issues.”
MBDPF secretary Bruno Msha has said that the repatriation package is being implemented with “active participation” of NDA government at the Centre. He admitted there were certain issues which were not included in the agreement but hoped that those would be fulfilled “under the able leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Home Minister Rajnath Singh”.
The reaction of Bru refugees to the repatriation has been tad negative. Right after the news of agreement and its conditions reached Bru camps, one Rosnojoy Meska of Naisingpara transit camp began a hunger strike.
Fourteen days after he started fasting, Bru leaders in the camps withdrew from repatriation agreement in the face of severe agitation of camp inmates.
Tripura Pradesh Congress vice-president Tapas Dey said the central government is trying to speed up repatriation “with an eye on Mizoram assembly election”. “Mizoram is expected to go for assembly election in November or December. Nearly 20,000 Bru refugees in Tripura are registered as voters in the neighbouring state. There is a concerted effort to credit BJP with the repatriation deal’s implementation among common refugees in Tripura,” he said.
The veteran Congress leader also said Bru refugees earlier voted for Congress but were not satisfied with the performance of his party. “They are hoping to try their luck with BJP this time,” Dey said, adding that Intelligence Bureau (IB) and other sleuths were mobilised to woo Bru refugees in favour of BJP government and its role in the repatriation process.
Tripura BJP spokesperson Mrinal Kanti Deb, however, ruled out any government excesses to favour his party and said Congress was trying to see everything through a political lens. “These people (Bru) are out of their homes for too long. There were efforts to repatriate them in the past but they were not entirely successful. We are trying to make it happen and there are some people trying to describe everything with a political gain in mind. It is unfortunate,” he said.
MBDPF president Apeto Sawibunga signed a document which said, “I, Sri A Sawibunga, President of Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples’ Forum (MBDPF) and one of the signatories of Four Corner Agreement have withdrawn the agreement which was signed on 3/7/18 at New Delhi involving MHA, Government of Tripura, Government of Mizoram and MBDPF today on 16/07/2018 due to strong agitation against MBDPF leaders from the general/mass public in presence of the officials of Government of Tripura.”
Their withdrawal from agreement didn’t mean much anyway. Police soon registered a suo motu FIR at Kanchanpur police station against sixty persons who allegedly forced Bru leaders to withdraw from repatriation. Three persons were identified and issued notice from local police station to furnish reasons of protest. Since then, rebelling voices have been silent.
Later in July, two platoons of Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) jawans were deployed to maintain security near the Bru camps. Now, with one month to go to the deadline of repatriation, a new committee has claimed to have majority support of the camp inmates and has demanded to form an ADC for Brus after repatriation in Mizoram.
MBDPCC wrote to Home Minister Rajnath Singh Wednesday and put forth eight-point demands including the formation of ADC for Brus, setting up cluster villages, granting of general amnesty to all Bru refugees.
Among other issues that fueled ethnic tension between Bru and Mizo communities two decades ago, demand for a Bru ADC was a significant one. Resurfacing of the demand was certainly not welcomed by Mizo leaders.
YMA president Vanlalruata said separatist demands like forming ADC were not welcome in his state. He also said YMA or Mizo community never objected to repatriation.
“We welcome them but on the condition that only those citizens who belong to Mizoram can come. No outsiders will be allowed to come back. Those whose names are there in 1995 electoral rolls can come back”, Vanlalruata said.
Bru refugee leader Bruno Msha, however, alleged that names of Bru and Chakma people were arbitrarily deleted from the 1995 electoral rolls. He said YMA has stuck to 1995 electoral rolls as identifying document for repatriation since they don’t want Bru refugees to go home.
With such animosity existing two decades after clashes separated the communities, repatriation still seems distant.
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