Back to Mizoram

By Satyabrata Chakraborty

repatriating Bru to MizoramThe Mizoram government has finally started repatriating Bru (Reang) evacuees from Tripura but no one is sure when the process will be completed. The first batch of 51 families, comprising 251 men, women and children, left on 3 and 4 November. The Centre had set 31 October as the deadline.

The repatriation process had to cross many hurdles. The Mizoram government under Zoramthanga, a diehard Mizo nationalist and supporter of parochial ethnicity, ignored the Supreme Court’s directive and repeated appeals by the National Human Rights Commission to take back the evacuees.

Union home minister P Chidambaram’s recent visit to Aizawl and his talks with chief minister Lalthanhawla brought about a significant change in Aizawl’s stance.

When Lalthanhawla, known for his moderate approach to minority issues, returned to power in the last Assembly elections, hopes were raised that the repatriation process would get a boost but he, too, was bound by political  compulsions.

He said in Aizawl recently that he had appealed to the Bru evacuees not to leave Mizoram in October 1997. He also said that RSS leaders had accused him of burning 20 Hindu temples and that he was responsible for driving the Brus from the state.

According to him, the Brus were never Hindus but atheists who had converted to Christianity.

“We have set up 10 refugee camps and we are posting three senior officers and doctors in each of them. We are concerned about the wellbeing of the Bru minorities and we are ready to talk to them to find solutions to the problem.”

Bru refugee leaders want the Mizoram administration to take appropriate steps to  provide adequate security for minorities and their property.

During their absence from Mizoram, their property had allegedly been grabbed by locals. The refugees want their land and property restored.

What has complicated the repatriation process is the claim on the actual number of those who fled Mizoram in 1997. Aizawl has refused to accept the lists prepared separately by the Tripura North district administration and the Forum of Bru Evacuees.

At the  initial stage 13 years ago, following ethnic clashes in Mizoram, there were said to be as many as 50,000 refugees.

Since then, many have left on their own, a few have mingled with the local tribal population and some families crossed over to the Chittagong Hills Tracts of Bangladesh in search of jhum land.

About 38,000 evacuees are still in the camps but Aizawl claims that only 15,000 of them are the genuine citizens of Mizoram and that it is not responsible for the “aliens” living in the camps.

In an agreement between the Mizoram government and evacuee leaders, Aizawl promised to release Rs 80,000 for each of the displaced families for constructing houses.

They will be  given free rations for 12 months beginning November and there will be special development programs for them. Minority interests will be protected. Refugee leaders want a regrouping of their villages at a new location in Mamit district, something which the government has rejected.

Mizoram also has the problem of illegal migrants from Myanmar. They are ethnic Mizos, with the same features and share the same customs and religion. These people work as manual labourers at wages cheaper than that of locals. And they are slowly displacing locals from unskilled and manual jobs.

**The writer is Agartala-based Journalists

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