The Amit Shah led Home Ministry on Thursday (16 January) inked an agreement to end the 22-year-old Bru refugee crisis by facilitating their resettlement in Tripura. The refugees numbering over 34,000 belong to 5,300 families. They were forced to migrate from Mizoram following tribal unrest, back in 1997.
This pact was signed by Chief Secretaries of Mizoram, Tripura and representatives of Bru tribes in the Ministry of Home Affairs' North Block office in the presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
Breaking Down The Settlement Pact
As part of this settlement the Home Ministry has released Rs 600 crore for the welfare of the Bru people living in six refugee camps in Tripura. Each Bru family would be give a 40x30 plot to construct a house as part of the Pradhan Mantri Awas Yojna along with a Rs 1.5 lakh aid for the same.
They will also be given a fixed deposit of Rs 4 lakh and monthly aid of Rs 5,000 per month along with free ration for the next two years.
Additionally, Rs 150 lakh will be given to Tripura government for land acquisition to acquire plots for the Bru refugees.
Persecution Of The Bru People And End Of 125 Year Old Problem
The Bru people also known as Reangs - a predominantly Hindu tribe living in Christian majority Mizoram took refuge in Tripura in 1997, as a result of violent clashes with the largely Christian Mizo tribes.
The current issue dates back to 1995 when the Young Mizo Association and Mizo Students’ Association demanded their exclusion from the electoral rolls by claiming that they were not ethnic to Mizoram.
This triggered a political and militant movement led by the Bru National Union (BNU) and Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF) respectively. The Brus demanded the creating of an autonomous council - a demand vociferously rejected by Mizos.
The 1997 violence too place in the Mamith subdivision, triggered by the killing of a forest official allegedly by BNLF militants.
In the 1997 flare-up, thousands of Bru homes were burnt, and a number of them were also killed and raped. The BNU has claimed that 1,341 houses of Bru people were burnt down in 41 villages.
The horrific episode of violence forced tens of thousands of them to flee to safety in neighbouring Tripura, where many still reside in refugee camps.
While many in the media are calling the Bru settlement an end to a 23 year old problem, former Mizoram governor and noted lawyer Swaraj Kaushal gave more insights to the dispute.
I am extremely happy with the signing of a tripartite agreement to resolve the Bru people who shuttled between Mizoram and Tripura. The media describes this as settlement of 23 year old problem. In my view this is a settlement of 125 year old problem.— Governor Swaraj (@governorswaraj) January 16, 2020
As per former external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj’s husband, the issue is actually a settlement of a 125 year old dispute. Brus who are traditionally Hindus, have inhabited an area along the Tripura-Mizoram border.
In Mizoram the Brus live in an area up to the Siaha district and Christian missionaries have been trying hard to convert them to Christianity. The Brus who also lived in Bangladesh, where they faced large scale persecution.
The Brus have been considered as an outsider in Mizoram where they are derogatorily referred to as Tuikuks. This second class treatment resulted in many adopting Mizo-sounding names and converting to Christianity, but it did not help matters.
He added that as the tribals predominantly live off forest land and its produce, its declaration as a wildlife sanctuary meant that the tribals struggled to survive. In the absence of government measures, the missionaries began filling the gap by building schools and providing essentials like firewood and kerosene.
While being Mizoram’s Governor he had attempted to get the Brus admitted in the Armed Forces but the idea was not appreciated by commanders who cited logistical challenges and a hostile city population.
Success After A Long Struggle
The first concrete development towards resettlement began in 2010 when 1,622 Bru families with 8,573 members were to be resettled in Mizoram. The process though ended prematurely following opposition by Mizo NGOs. Many Brus too were reluctant to leave fearing their safety.
In 2018 another rehabilitation package was sanctioned but only 328 families decided to move. This led people to explore the possibility of permanently settling Bru refugees in Tripura and finally the current pact was inked.
The displacement has also resulted in difficulties for the Brus to exercise their voting right in Mizoram. They achieved a major breakthrough in 2018 when the community managed to cast votes at polling stations in the Mizoram assembly polls.
A total of 11,987 Bru voters were transported by the Tripura government to a special polling booth in the border village of Kanhmun in Mizoram from the refugee camps in Tripura.
They earlier had to cast votes in their refugee camps in Tripura itself via special arrangement by the Election Commission. This previous voting arrangement was marred by allegations of manipulation and unlawful interference by both sides.