The petition filed by the Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram in the Supreme Court in 2005 seems to be developing a hope for around 32,000 Bru refugees, still languishing in six camps of North Tripura since 1997 after being evicted from their native homes in Mizoram in the wake of ethnic violence.
Brus or Reang Vanvasis after their eviction from their native homes in Mizoram in the wake of ethnic violence in 1997 are languishing in six camps in North Tripura. Though several moves involving the Centre and the states of Mizoram and Tripura have been made for taking them back to their native land, these could not succeed due to the ambiguities in the terms of settlement of the Mizoram Government in particular. The main ground of objection of the Brus to reach any settlement was that around 3,000 of the refugees, who have been taken back during the four rounds of repatriation have had very sad and painful experiences after their return.
Nor were they provided the facilities and most importantly rations regularly. They apprehended a bleak future which would further compound their agonies. In the meantime, the Mizoram Government impressed them with a Roadmap of settlement which the apex Bru body Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples’ Forum (MBDPF) refused to accept as they were not provided with any copy of it. In fact, it would be repatriation without any system or method, pointed out Shri A Sawibunga, president of the Forum. Moreover, the Bru leaders have been subjected to harassment and even mental torture, alleged a member of the Forum.
After the intervention of the Supreme Court following the filing of writ petitions before it by Surya Narain Saxena on behalf of the Akhil Bharatiya Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram in 2005 and Human Rights Commission in 2007, the Apex Court directed the formation of a Monitoring Group with the representatives of the Union Home Ministry, State Governments of Mizoram and Tripura to set up modalities for smooth repatriation of the Bru refugees. MBDPF welcomed the move and also the assurance given by Lalbiakzama, joint secretary, and David H Lalthangliana, officer on special duty, of Home Department of Mizoram. They assured to follow the directions of the Supreme Court to ensure trouble-free home coming, besides providing them basic facilities and free rations for four years.
Quite significantly, according to Bruno Msha, general secretary of the Forum, a crucial meeting on the issue was held on October 15 in the office of Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) in New Delhi, which was attended by Manisha Saxena, chief electoral officer of Mizoram, resident commissioner of Tripura in New Delhi, and JNP Singh, director, North-East-I, MHA, Elvis Chorkhy and Surjamoni Reang, representing the Bru Coordination Committee (BCC), and A Sawibunga, Bruno Msha and R Laldawngliana, of MBDPF. It was chaired by MA Ganapathy, additional secretary internal security cum joint secretary (North East) of the MHA.
The MBDPF expressed its sincere commitment to cooperate with the repatriation process when resumed. It also offered a number of options and demands before the MHA in order to resolve the difficulties faced by the Bru refugees. On being urged upon, MA Ganapathy was to file an affidavit before the Supreme Court in case no. WP (C) of 2007 on November 6, affirming positive steps. But, the affidavit is yet to be filed. As per the demands of the Forum, 300 Bru families should be settled in each village to ensure their safety and protection of their identity and culture.
For that, around 16 villages would be required to settle all the 5,000 Bru families and their original places of settlements have to be given preference in this regard. The villages should be identified by representatives of the Ministry of Home Affairs, State governments of Mizoram and Tripura, MBDPF and BCC. After identification of the villages, the process of repatriation should be initiated. Besides, each Bru family should be asked to give preference for one among three villages where they want to settle down.
The identification of the villages for the Bru families should be finalised before starting the repatriation process. MBDPF leaders further said there is no need for “temporary shelter” or “camps” as the Brus can be taken to their selected villages directly. They added to say that Bru villages should be recognised as “Village Council” under the Lushai Hills District (Village Councils) Act, 1953. It is relevant to mention here that the villages from where the Brus were forced to flee in 1997 were clustered together as Village Council.
It is also to point out that the repatriation process which was to resume from June 2 could not be taken up due to a number of reasons. It was pointed out that Brus were kept in the dark about the villages where they would be taken back and how far they would live together with safety and security, besides ensuring rations and livelihood as stipulated in the agreement.
The delegation of Mizoram Government has agreed to consider the demand for deployment of special police officers for ensuring safety and security of the returnee Brus. It should be noted that on September 30, five Mizo NGOs’ Coordination Committee comprising Young Mizo Association (YMA),Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP), Mizoram Students’ Union (MSU), Mizoram Upa Pawl (MUP), and Mizo Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm (MHI) passed a resolution to the effect that no election officials would be allowed to undertake the task of revision of voters’ lists in the relief camps. “This is one of the reasons for refugees to be apprehensive”, pointed out a leader.
On the issue of rehabilitation, it was stated by the Forum that the package was formulated in 2007 by the then Joint Secretary (North East), Naveen Verma. It needs revision as it is discriminatory. For example, Brus are being provided housing assistance as per the Indira Awas Yojana. The housing assistance to be provided to the Brus is Rs 38,500 as against Rs 75,000 under the IAY in hilly areas. In addition to food rations, the Government of Bharat should continue to provide cash doles as is being extended in the relief camps of Tripura.
Further, the titles for lands of 2.5 acres on which houses for each returnee Bru family are to be built and for which housing assistance has to be provided are yet to be assured. A special project for development of the Brus to reintegrate them in society should be initiated. The MBDPF stressed on the MHA to continue the relief being provided in Tripura till completion of the repatriation process. The Bru leaders at the same time urged upon the MHA to instruct the government of Tripura to improve the facilities in the relief camps as per the additional affidavit of the MHA submitted by JPN Singh before the Supreme Court in 2007. Significantly, Supreme Court has clubbed together both the cases for hearing.
The affidavit in fact committed itself to provide clothes or cash and a pair of footwear twice a year from now in place of once a year. But shockingly, the same has not yet been provided by the authorities concerned. They urged upon MA Ganapathy to look into the issues and take positive actions to extend them the desired relief. It is to be seen as pointed out by Sawibunga and Bruno Msha how far their long and unending wait for years from the pains and agonies of camps come to an end.
Jyoti Lal Chowdhury