Agartala: In Laxmipur village of Kanchanpur subdivision of North Tripura, six Bru tribals died of starvation recently — four of them were infants. The tragedy unfolded after the Union ministry of home affairs stopped supply of rations, cash dole and other relief materials to the community on October 1 this year.
Kanchanpur and Panisagar have been home to 37,000 members of the Bru community since 1997, yet they are people with no place to call home.
Recently, people of the Bru community sat on an indefinite strike to protest against the Centre’s decision to stop the supply of rations, cash dole and relief materials. They had been on a sit-in demonstration and indefinite road blockade for over 10 days until recently when they were assured that the ration supply would be resumed.
“A three-month-old child and a 60-year-old woman died after the ration supply stopped in the camps. The baby’s family had eight members, only three got rations till September 30. Now that the ration is stopped, his mother doesn’t have milk to feed her child. They don’t have money to purchase medicine as the cash dole has also stopped. We feel the child died due to the shortage of food. An old woman died due to poor health conditions in the camp,” said Bruno Msha,
general secretary of Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF).
Women are the worst affected, they are unable to provide for their infants. Frustrated and angry, they have also joined the fight. Their leader Nayanti Apeto fears that more will die if a solution is not found soon.
“It’s been three days that they have organised the road blockade demanding the resumption of rations and other relief materials but nobody from the administration has approached with a positive response. The women are suffering a lot as the mothers are not able to breastfeed to their child. This needs to be sorted out as soon as possible, or else a number of people will die. Already an infant and a 60-year-old died,” said the women leader.
The decision by the Union ministry of home affairs to stop free relief ration supply came after they signed an agreement with the governments of Tripura and Mizoram on ending the refugee crisis.
Displaced from their homes in Mizoram, Brus have been living in these relief camps of Tripura for over 22 years now.
The government relief package included 600 grams of rice, soap, slippers, mosquito net and a cash dole of Rs 5 per day. The minors get half of what the adults receive.
State governments of both Mizoram and Tripura say it is an issue that must be tackled by the Centre. “We will immediately visit New Delhi and place a demand in the state cabinet to re-settle the Brus in Tripura state itself. They have been living here for decades and it would not be difficult to settle them here itself. It is a long-pending issue so will hold discussion with both sides to know their opinions. Most of the Brus belong to Tripura originally and therefore we will demand for their settlement in Tripura,” said Mevar Kumar Jamatia, Tripura tribal affairs minister.
“The Brus are starving and the state government is silent, the government should rush there with ration and relief materials,” said former MP Jitendra Chaudhury. “If the IPFT is raising the issue of resettling them here in Tripura then our support would be there with them, he added.
Over 37,000 Brus were forced to flee from Mizoram’s Mamit, Kolasib and Lunglei districts following an ethnic clash between the Brus and Mizos in 1997.
They have been languishing in relief camps in Naisingpara, Ashaparaa, Hezacherra, Kaskau, Khakchangpara and Hamsapara relief camps in Kanchanpur and Panisagar subdivisons of Tripura ever since. They are still struggling for their basic necessities and for a place they can call home.
The Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF) has been asking for an Autonomous District Council in Mizoram, which the government of Mizoram denied. So far, around 5,000 Bru inmates have shifted back to Mizoram since the repatriation process began. However, leaders of the community are complaining about a non-conducive environment in Mizoram.
“The Brus are living since times immemorial in Mizoram, so we are indigenous people. Due to the awakening of the educated youths knowing that our constitutional right, the community demand to safeguard, to protect our cultural identity and ethnic and all,” said A Sawibunga, president, MBDPF.
“So, by demanding the protection of our cultural identity, some ill feeling came out of the majority mizos and the bru minorities and the people of the Brus organise several meetings in order to safe and protect our identity. We were driven out by the majority Mizos in 1997.
There is no seat reservation for government jobs in Mizoram, so we are bound to leave Mizoram,” Sawibunga added.
Human rights activist Purrosuttam Roy Barman condemned the government’s move of stopping the rations and cash dole and termed it inhumane. “All of us want the peaceful solution of the problem. This problem should be solved politically, peacefully through dialogue. The Brus are ready to go back. But first, the government of Mizoram and centre should create a conducive atmosphere and restore normalcy. We must understand the pain of a refugee. We want a solution but not through by force,” said Purushottam Roy Barman, a human rights activist.
Tripura’s royal scion and former Tripura Pradesh Congress Committee president Pradyot Kishore Manikya Deb Barman has come out in support of the Bru community and plans to file a writ petition in the Tripura High Court against the Centre’s decision.
“In Indian Constitution as per Article 21 no one can stop rations and foods. It is against the Constitution. Today, I am going to meet the Tripura Indigenous Lawyers Association at Agartala and will file a writ petition with the High Court of Tripura. This is your state and this place belongs to them. Many of Brus were displaced during the Dumbur dam project in Tripura. If you can accept lakhs and lakhs of people from another country, why can’t you accept the Bru people who have become refugees in their own land?”
Who are the Brus?
The Bru people are one of the indigenous communities from the Northeast state, who have been living mostly in the state of Tripura, Assam and Mizoram.
Why did they flee Mizoram?
The Bru communities who have been living in the state of Mizoram for ages had fled to Tripura following an ethnic clash between the majority Mizo in 1997. A total of 37,000 people were living in Tripura after they fled from Mamit, Lunglei and Kolasib districts of Mizoram and settled in the forest areas of Tripura.
How many of them returned till date?
As per the official records of the Tripura government around 5,000 Brus have returned to Mizoram in the last eight phases of repatriation, while the number of people still living in the seven relief camps is more than 32,300.
Supply from MHA in the relief camps
Abhedananda Baidya, Kanchanpur Sub-divisional Magistrate (SDM), informed that the MHA has been providing 600 and 300 gram of rice to the adults and minors respectively on a daily basis along with cash dole of Rs 5 and Rs 2.5 for every adult and minors on a daily basis for the last two decades.
What are their demands?
In the first two decades, the Bru community has been asking for an Autonomous District Council in Mizoram, which the government of Mizoram denied giving. Now that the repatriation process is on the leaders of the Bru community have been complaining about non-conducive environment in Mizoram.
What was the agreement signed in New Delhi
The leaders of the Bru community had signed an agreement with the centre in presence of the government of Tripura and Mizoram in June last year accepting the package of repatriation.
After the leaders returned from New Delhi the members of the relief camps rejected the package offered by the Centre and only 5,000 people shifted back to Mizoram.
List of people who died recently
1. John Chongprengh (2), S/o Dolendro Chongpreng, ration card No. 311/C, Naisingpara Camp: October 31, 2019.
2. Maloti Reang (60), W/o Binoda Reang, ration card No. 42/H, Naisingpara Camp: October 31, 2019.
3. Bistirung (65), W/o Khuma, ration card No. 169/G, Naisingpara Camp: November 3, 2019.
4. Akosha (1), S/o Moniram, ration card No. 52/G, Naisingpara Camp: November 3, 2019.
5. Ojitrai (3 months), S/o Mergoram, ration card No. 10/B, Naisingpara Camp, November 3, 2019.
6. Pigili Reang (4 months), D/o Khondro, ration card No. 217/D, Hamsapara Camp, November 4, 2019.