It was a usual day 19 years ago at Prabhapur village in Gabardi, now in Tripura’s Sipahijala district. Villagers were busy working in the fields- women carrying lunch for the male folk from their homes. As the day progressed into the afternoon, there was hue and cry in the vicinity. Ratna Das, now in her early fifties, went out to see what was unfolding.
Rumours spread that insurgents had attacked their village. The family of 17 people immediately took shelter in an adjoining forest and stayed there till nightfall. But Ratna’s sister-in-law Malati Das fell behind. She was not traced till a year later when her decomposed body was recovered by the police authorities.
People in the village vacated their homes overnight and rushed to Agartala city, wherefrom they shifted base several times in search of a permanent home. Ratna’s family is now split between two separate Udbastu (displacement victim) colony at New Arabinda Palli and Malaynagar in West Tripura district. And they are the fortunate ones.
Out of 60 thousand odd families displaced due to the armed insurgency in Tripura, 6,500 identified families live in West Tripura and Sipahijala districts alone. Among them, only 202 families are rehabilitated until now. The others still live occupying government lands — afraid they might be evicted without notice.
There is no formal record of displaced families’ whereabouts in six other districts of the state.
The residents of New Arabinda Palli Udbastu Colony exhibit scepticism about the reports that inform that 984 cases pertaining to the insurgency have been withdrawn in the state by the BJP-IPFT government since it assumed office in March, last year.
Law Minister Ratan Lal Nath recently told media persons at Agartala that the cases were withdrawn in two phases; 262 cases were withdrawn till December 31, 2018, and 722 cases were rolled back in the second phase between January 01, 2019 and July 17, 2019.
These cases were withdrawn as per agreements signed by previous state governments and different insurgent outfits, in accordance to which the latter surrendered arms. Such agreements include the 1988 TNV Peace Accord and 1993 ATTF Accord.
The minister has, however, clarified that no case of grave offence including crimes against women and mass murders would be withdrawn.
Reacting to the decision, Sarbadaliya Paschim Tripura o Sipahijala Zilla Udbastu Unnayan Committee secretary Sajal Podder said, “The government can withdraw cases registered against insurgents. But they should also do justice to people like us, who were rendered homeless by insurgents at the first place. Let them provide us housing and compensation and then withdraw cases against insurgents”.
Renowned insurgency expert Subir Bhaumik writes that over a lakh people were displaced from their homes since the June 1980 riots in Tripura. In Khowai alone, 2,600 families were displaced by NLFT and ATTF attacks between 1998 and 2001. In other parts of West Tripura district, 2,400 other families were displaced between 1998 and 2001 alone.
According to Bhaumik, 40-50 thousand people were likely displaced in Khowai, Sadar and Bishalgarh sub-divisions, which were all in West Tripura district at the time.
Corroborating Bhaumik’s argument, internal displacement victim leader Sajal Podder said nearly 60,000 odd families were displaced across Tripura since 1993 due to the insurgency.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, Podder said their search for homes is still on after twenty years.
“State government, both previous Left government and incumbent state government, have helped us. But our struggle has continued in both regimes. We want permanent and sustainable solution for our children. We want official recognition as Internally Displaced Victims, proper rehabilitation and a compensation of Rs. 5 lakh per family”, he said.
Displacement victim Ratna Das says the government should not have withdrawn cases against insurgents. She says victims of insurgency filed complaints against them and they (insurgents) should face punishment.
60-year old Sarojini Roy Saha says her husband Haripada Saha, who was a silverware vendor, was abducted and killed by insurgents 20 years back. The family didn’t have any means to manage three square meals a day, let alone run errands with the police. So, nobody filed any complaint.
The sexagenarian doesn’t have anything to say about withdrawing cases against insurgents but she wants the government to make sure her son, who recently passed Madhyamik examination, gets a decent job.
Sandhya Das, Basanti Chakraborty, Ranu Paul, Swadesh Sutradhar, Sanjit Bhattacharya and many others who lived in the colony have similar emotions.
Political analyst Tapas Dey said that the struggle of tribal self-determination, often bolstered by political aspirations, led to a silent exodus throughout the hills of Tripura. A large number of Bengalees were displaced from Takarjala, Jampuijala and Gabardi villages as early by 2002. Armed insurgency and struggle for self-determination have accounted for the bulk of internally displaced persons in Assam and Tripura.