On July 3, the repatriation agreement was signed in New Delhi between Centre, the state governments of Mizoram, Tripura and MBDPF with a view to repatriate the displaced persons of the Bru community to Mizoram after they had to leave the state following ethnic violence in 1997.
The Reangs, also known as the Bru, are a designated Scheduled Tribe spread in the states of Tripura, Mizoram and Assam, along with some scattered presence in the Chittagong hill tracts of neighboring Bangladesh. The culture and tradition of the Brus is unique and have an oral history and myths regarding their arrival at the waves of migration from the Arakan region of Myanmar (Burma). Reangs, the second largest ethnic group in Mizoram, depend on jhum (shifting) cultivation for livelihood. They lead simple lives, depend on the forest for their sustenance, and still lead the life of hunters and food-gatherers.
In late 1997, the minority Brus fled from Mizoram to seek refuge in neigbouring Tripura following violent clashes with the Mizo majority. The migration was stimulated by violent clashes in Mamith subdivision, a Reang-dominated area, when they demanded creation of an autonomous district council (ADC), under the sixth schedule, to protect and safeguard their language, culture and ethnic identity.
The Bru National Union that was formed in 1994 to “protect the rights” of the Reang community, suggested the idea of an Autonomous District Council at its annual convention in September 1996. The demand was strongly opposed by Mizo groups. However, the Bru National Union maintained that an ADC was necessary for the socio-economic development of this backward tribe as it would ensure significant administrative, judicial and legislative powers to the community.
At a meeting of the Bru political representatives in September 1997, the demand was once again reiterated. However the state’s major parties like the Young Mizo Association (YMA) and the Mizo Zirlai Pawl (Mizo Students Union, or MZP), openly opposed to the demand and initiated to aggressively insist that the Bru withdraw their request for ADC status.
Relations between the Reangs and the Mizos deteriorated quickly. This led to a reactionary militant movement among the Brus that was led by an armed outfit called the Bru National Liberation Front. The BNLF kept on its underground activities both in Mizoram and the neighboring Tripura. In 1997, militants of the Bru National Liberation Front allegedly shot down a Mizo forest guard at the Dampa Tiger Reserve located in Mamit district. The incident evoked a hostile reaction, and the Brus were at the receiving end of a violent backlash by the Mizos, forcing the Brus to flee the state in large numbers to neighbouring Tripura.
The displaced Brus took refuge in a town called Kanchanpur in northern Tripura, on the Mizoram-Tripura border. Now, they are spread across seven refugee camps on the Jamui hills, which separate Tripura from Mizoram and Bangladesh.
In April 2005, an agreement was signed between the BNLF and the Mizoram government by agreeing to disband and dropping the demand for an ADC. However this agreement was signed without consultation with the Bru in the camps where an estimated of 1000 BNLF cadres laid down their arms, and the authorities provided rehabilitation assistance for the fighters and their families in Mizoram. It offered no guarantee that ethnic violence would not be repeated.
Aizawl government held a series of talks with the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum in April 2007. An attempt at repatriation began in 2010 and some people even moved back. But 2017 was to be a landmark year. In December, the Mizoram government announced that it had identified 32,857 people belonging to 5,413 families for repatriation. As talks of repatriation began, violence struck again. In November 2009, Bru militants reportedly killed a Mizo teenager, triggering another wave of brutal retaliatory attacks on the Brus who had stayed behind, and another round of migration to Tripura.
After series of meetings that held between the Home Ministry, Tripura and Mizoram officials, as well as, the Mizoram Bru’s Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF), which represents the refugees, to work out a rehab strategy, the historic agreement on Bru repatriation was signed. The agreement was signed by chief secretary of Tripura, principal home secretary Mizoram, special secretary (IS) of MHA and president of Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum in presence of union home minister Rajnath Singh, Tripura chief minister Biplab Kumar Deb and Mizoram chief minister Lal Thanhawla.
As per the Bru Migrants Repatriation Agreement, the displaced people belonging to 5,407 families, currently living in temporary camps in Tripura, will be repatriated to Mizoram after almost 22 years before September 30 this year, following which all temporary camps in North Tripura will be closed in the first week of October. Each family will be given one-time financial assistance of Rs 4 lakh for rehabilitation. The amount will be kept in fixed deposit in the name of the head of the family within one month of repatriation. The money will be kept in fixed deposit for two years and will be given to the family after living continuously for three years in Mizoram.
Each family will be given Rs 5,000 per month as cash assistance for a period of two years through DBT. House building assistance of Rs 1.5 lakh in three installments will be given to each of the families. The other rehabilitation packages include free ration for two years and free transportation.
When the long suffering was finally set to be over ensuring a smooth return of the 5,407 displaced Bru families from their exile of 21 years in Tripura to their homeland in Mizoram, the Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples’ Forum (MBDPF), a committee of Bru refugees and one of the signatories to the Four Corner Agreement with Centre on repatriation, pulled out of the pact, stating ‘dissatisfaction’ and pressure from disgruntled refugees, forcing them to withdraw it. The refugees were unhappy with the outcome of the agreement and demanded a better deal. They also ransacked the outfit’s office.
However, the Mizoram government has left the decision to the Centre, and is continuing with preparations to take responsibility for thousands of refugees and secure their return home. There are a total 32,876 people belonging to the Bru community who are in relief camps in Tripura. According to official, around 8,000 Bru refugees have gone back to Mizoram since 1997 in six batches and they have been living peacefully in the state.