“Bru Repatriation” is one of the most quoted words in Mizoram home department circle with its halo of unfinished and futile exercise. Following the unrest after the murder of Lalzawmliana, a forest guard at Dampa Tiger Reserve by Bru National Liberation Front in 1997, many Brus fled to Tripura due to ethnic clash. Since then, the Mizoram government and the Union home ministry tried to repatriate and resettle them in their original place. However, this was further hampered by the murder of Zarzokima, a youth from Bungthuam, by Bru militants. Since then, the repatriation exercise was carried out many times with no success.
The genesis of the Brus, whom the Mizos called Tuikuk and are known as Reangs in Tripura, is located in the not so distant past. The issue started when the Brus started demanding ADC, the civil society in Mizoram content that that these Brus are migrants, Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who have migrated to Mizoram due to various reasons and therefore not original to the state. While many Brus have been living in Mizoram for quite some time, it can also be noted that many are also migrants from Bangladesh and Tripura and living a semi-nomadic lifestyle.
Mizoram government and the Union home ministry tried to repatriate the Brus nine times in total. Mizoram government set up camps at state border and tried to identify those who are originally from Mizoram. Around 30,000 Brus are identified as originally from Mizoram. A number of families have already resettled in Mizoram in these repatriation rounds.
At this stage, from a vantage point, how can one locate the Bru exodus, failed repatriations and final settlement in Tripura with a particular framework? All over the world, various ethnic groups settle together, clash with one another and so on throughout history. We keep saying about the pluralities of Northeast India and the number of ethic and linguistic communities that lived there. In each state, there is always predominance of certain communities. Within them are also certain other smaller communities who may or may not historically live with them since the cut-off date of the erstwhile Indian citizenship act.
Due to Northeast states’ numerically lesser population than the adjoining countries and Indian mainland, we keep seeing a flux of migrants, both internal and external. When population was less, there was less pressure and more homogeneity in action and practice in harmonious co-existence. However, when population rises, there is a struggle for capital and economic resource. Smaller communities also want a larger piece of their share. It is story that plays out not only in Mizoram, Northeast India or India to that matter but to the world at large.
At this juncture, issues of indignity and original inhabitants are always in play. Who is original and who is a visitor? While historically there may be certain areas which are indigenous to a particular community, after the establishment of the Indian Union, the erstwhile Citizenship Act was the benchmark through which the inhabitants are identified. The new Citizenship Act has also thrown in another new spanner in the work. By making the cut-off date more recent, we may see some new developments regarding originality and who is a citizen.
The pertinent question at this point is this: Will this Quadripartite solve the Brus question or will it brings in more issues not only within the ambit of Mizoram and Tripura border but also about other communities within India? Only within days of the announcement of the historic agreement, the Brus in Mizoram already have misgivings. Especially those who have taken the rehabilitation package and repatriated to Mizoram are asking for more compensation saying that they have been cheated and demands more compensation akin to those they are getting in Tripura.
It is still unclear where the Tripura government is going to settle these Brus in Tripura. However, within a fragile demographic distribution, their population may create certain imbalances which can lead to fresh ethnic clashes, even though these are in the realms of maybe.
At this moment, officials in Mizoram and home ministry maybe patting themselves on their back, and with good reasons. The Bru leadership has played politics with both the state and Central government, reneging on various promises and resettlement issues. It is often hard to delineate whether the community stand is the real stand of the Bru community or the aspirations of the Bru leadership. So, after an arduous nine rounds of failed attempted repatriation, this quadripartite agreement is like out of the blue.
At this point, it is hard to fathom what will be the real impact of this agreement except though conjectures and crystal ball gazing. For the time being, it may fulfill the aspirations of the both the Bru and Mizo communities which are on different trajectories. Hopefully, it will be able to sustain these aspirations and successfully close one important chapter in Northeast history.
(Zara Bawitlung is a civil servant turned academician. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views expressed are personal)