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After four deaths in relief camps, Tripura’s Bru migrants ask ‘Where is the Right to Food?’

Earlier on October 31, when the first casualty reports arrived, SDM Baidya said a local Primary Health Centre (PHC) pronounced the deaths were caused by ‘unknown diseases’.

Written by Debraj Deb | Kanchanpur |
Updated: November 4, 2019 8:28:17 pm
Nayanti Reang, a 30 year old migrant and mother of one, cries while speaking about deaths of infant babies of her fellow relief camp dwellers in Tripura. (Source: Debraj Deb)

Thirty-four days back, the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) stopped food and ration supplies for six Bru relief camps in Tripura’s North district as the ninth phase of repatriation of 32,000 migrants living here since last two decades commenced.

But a month after these meagre supplies were halted, four persons have died in the camps and many others have been hospitalised, which migrant leaders claim to be the consequence of severe starvation.

According to a relief package announced by the Centre six months after Bru refugees came here in 1997, 600 grams of rice is provided to every adult Bru person each day and 300 grams is allotted daily for minors. The package also had provisions of cash dole of Rs 5 per adult per day, Rs 2.5 for every minor in a day, a soap in one year, a pair of slippers every year and a mosquito net in every three years.

Meanwhile, no officials from the local administration or MHA representatives engaged in observing the situation have said anything till now.

Speaking to indianexpress.com, Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples Forum (MBDPF) general secrerary Bruno Msha said four persons, including two infants, have died so far in the relief camps due to starvation.

“Four Bru migrants have died due to starvation in these camps. Two persons died on October 31 and two others died today (Nov 3). The authorities have attributed the deaths to unknown diseases and it means starvation. If they (govt) admit starvation, it would be difficult for them,” Bruno said.

Accusing the Central and state governments of playing down real crisis scenario in Tripura’s Bru camps, Bruno informed that the migrants previously submitted several memorandum to the Government of India and state government of Tripura to reach amicable solution, but all in vain.

“Our people demand to check the areas allotted for repatriation prior to our return, cluster villages among few other legitimate issues. We voiced these things in several meetings and memorandum. But Government of India and Mizoram have turned a turned a blind eye to our sufferings. If we don’t get proper food, proper shelter and assurance for safety, it is impossible for us to return,” the migrant leader clarified.

After the government declined to budge on its decision to halt food supplies, several NGOs, Christian missionary organisations, tribal village elders have come together to raise emergency food supplies for Bru camp dwellers. (Debraj Deb)

North Tripura District Magistrate Raval Hamendra Kumar could not be reached for his comment on the issue.

Kanchanpur Sub-Divisional Magistrate Abhedananda Baidya said he has ‘heard’ about reports of casualties in Bru camps but declined to comment saying he doesn’t have inquiry reports on the issue yet.

Earlier on October 31, when the first casualty reports arrived, SDM Baidya said a local Primary Health Centre (PHC) attributed the deaths to ‘unknown diseases’.

Medical officials at Kanchanpur Sub-Divisional Hospital and Dasda Primary Health Centre (PHC), where few of the deceased were treated, declined to comment.

Meanwhile, those who lost their dear ones in these few days are angry at the government for stopping food supplies in their camps. “We are citizens of India. We came here out of compulsion. Where is our right to food? Are we animals?” questioned Molsoma Reang, son of 65-year-old Bistirung Reang, who died at Naisingpara camp on Sunday.

He said his mother developed health problems after spending day half-fed, often starved. Since the government also stopped cash dole along with ration supplies, she could not afford to buy medicines and eventually died, Molsoma alleged.

For Moniram and Zoremi Molshoy, the pain was only far more excruciating.

Their one-year-old baby girl Akosa passed away on Sunday. Zoremi sounded low but spoke calmly when asked about her child. People are dying every other day, she said.

Explained

How the Brus ended up in Tripura camps

Nearly 37,000 people fled Mamit, Kolasib and Lunglei districts of Mizoram during ethnic conflict in 1997. Twenty two years later, 5,000 have returned to Mizoram over eight phases of repatriation. The remaining still live in six relief camps in Kanchanpur and Panisagar sub-divisions of north Tripura in bamboo huts without proper power and drinking water supply or health centres and schools.

Before her, 2-year-old John Chongprengh and 60-year-old Makoto Reang died at the same camp on October 31.

“My child died due to shortage of food and medicines. I have another child. I want the government to lift this food ban and immediately give us ration supplies and cash dole. I want all children of these camps to live,” Moniram said.

Nayanti Reang, a 30-year-old migrant and mother of one, said they are forced by the central government to return to Mizoram. Weeping while describing death of babies of her fellow camp dwellers, Nayanti said she wants a better future for her child and she will not allow it to be chalked out by coercion to repatriate.

A gathering of nearly a thousand Bru migrants are holding a road blockade at Dasda-Anandabazaar area since last four days now. They are sporting placards of ‘Don’t force us by empty stomach’, ‘Please continue ration immediately’, ‘Stoppage of ration is unconstitutional’ and ‘What happened to Right to Food?’

A still from the spot of Bru migrants’ indefinite road blockade at Dasda-Anandabazaar area in North Tripura on Sunday. The migrants have been holding the blockade, demanding immediate resumption of food supplies to the camps, which is halted since last one month. (Debraj Deb)

After pleas to authorities failed, they are resorting to it as a land stand of sorts.

But the blockade, however, had raised eyebrows of many local people who said their regular movement and trade was adversely affected by the blockade.

Pramesh Das, a vegetable trader at Gachirampara market, said his business was badly affected by the road blockade since last four days. Matilal Debnath, a thread trader from Dasda market, voiced a similar concern.

Most of these traders move around, selling their items at village markets or ‘haats’ in tribal hamlets like Dasda, Gachirampara, Anandabazaar, Satnala, Damcherra and Belenchhip. Though they live so close, many of these people don’t believe the plight of Bru migrants and feel they are ‘cooking up’ pitiable stories to prolong their stay in Tripura.

Nearly 37,000 Bru people fled Mamit, Kolasib and Lunglei districts of Mizoram during ethnic conflict in 1997. Twenty two years later, 5,000 have returned to Mizoram in eight phases of repatriation. 32,000 people still live in six relief camps in Kanchanpur and Panisagar sub-divisions of North Tripura, where they have makeshift bamboo thatched huts, no permanent power supply, no safe drinking water supply system, no health centres for their treatment and no schools.

While there are several other durable solutions for these Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) like resettlement, assimilation, integration etc, the Government of India has so far opted only for repatriation or return to their homeland – Mizoram.

The ongoing ninth phase of repatriation has faced a series of hiccups till now, including straightaway denial of migrants to return. But government officials say there is no change of plan from ‘upper level’, indicating the Government of India.

As MHA Special Secretary (Internal Security) A.P. Maheshwari told on October 16, “Our stand is very clear. There will be no relief camps anymore in Tripura.”

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