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Return of the Native

Can Chidambaram bring about the return of the Brus to Mizoram?

P Chidambaram interacting with leaders of Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples ForumFor the first time Union Home Minister (HM) P Chidambaram, who had successfully brought insurgents of this region to peace dialogues, had taken a new initiative to restore peace and came to Kanchanpur in North Tripura, and assured everything necessary from the centre for repatriation of the Bru displaced people of Mizoram.

But now the question is - Are the displaced Bru people convinced with the Home Minister’s assurances and ready to return to theirhomeland or is there still some confusion?

Well, Chidambaram had a long interaction of more thanan hour with the displaced people at the community hall in Gachirampara camp in the presence of the leaders and other frontal organizations of the Brus.

However, the most unfortunate part of the entire process was that, it seems everything was haphazard, unplanned and without any homework done on the genesis to the total crisis.

Initially, only a handful of some 15-20 people including the Bru leaders and a few representatives of the Mizoram government were there in the big community hall which was almost empty. All of a sudden the Home Minister wanted more inmates there as he wanted to hear from the horse’s mouth.

The fulfill the desire of Chidambaram, the security personnel engaged there in a hurry started calling some of the inmates, who were standing by the roadside to get a view of the central leaders, and in a hurry ushered them inside to fill up the chairs.

Union Home Minister P Chidambaram at Naisingpara refugee camp in North TripuraWell the intention was good but the comical part is that the entire interaction took place in English, though at some point an officer had translated a section of what was said to Hindi, which was even funnier as Hindi is a tougher language for the inmates to understand when compared to English which is generally used more in their society. So unable to comprehend Hindi, which is as good as Greek to them, these people more often than not had blank looks on their faces during the entire process of the dialogue.

The Home Minister, who had come to this remote corner of India just to hear from the people their version of the story and who wanted to know if at all they were willing to return to Mizoram said in his short speech, “This is not the way you want to live, neither do I want you people to live in this condition. I want you all to go back and live in your own villages and this is the objective of my visit here.”

He assured them all support but on the condition of repatriation.

“I can assure all your requirements, security and financial help for you repatriation but you have to ultimately go back,” the Home Minister said adding, “The centre through the ministry of DoNER has already given 33 crores to the Mizoram government for development and we can give additional funds for integrated development of the Bru villages in Mizoram once you go back.”

A Bru girl stands with a placardHe said that in the refugee camps the Brus are living in subhuman conditions and the government can not assure human rights for which the Brus must return to their homeland.

Chidambaram, gave a patient hearing to the Bru leaders and even tried to exchange words with the common people who had gathered there.

But the Bru’s stuck to their prime demanded which is a ‘Written agreement from the Mizoram government before returning’.

They expressed that the intervention of Chidambaram will surely sort out some of the issues but not all of them. Unless ‘The Mizoram government is genuinely willing to take the Brus back’ the ultimate result of repatriation will be a zero, they stated.

“Land is the prime issue before us besides security, financial aid and employment. How long will we be able to survive after returning to Mizoram without all these? Here at least we get something from the government but once we return we have to start again from scratch. We have placed several demands before the Home Minister and we are hopeful that his intervention will expedite the process but, unless the Mizoram government gives us written assurance of our demands there is no use in returning,” said A Saurbunga, President of the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF).

He added that some 700 families during the last two years in different phases had returned to Mizoram but they are living in very critical conditions.

Saurbunga alleged, “The Mizoram government, though it initially promised to implement proper rehabilitation package for Brus forgot these promises when they had returned to Mizoram.”

He demanded that the agreement should be between the MBDPF and the Mizoram government in the presence of representatives from the centre and the state government of Tripura.

“This is not the way you want to live, neither do I want you people to live in this condition. I want you all to go back and live in your own villages and this is the objective of my visit here.”

- Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram

Another senior MBDPF leader had demanded for increased rehabilitation package for the repatriated refugees as the present amount is not adequate. “The amount of `80,000 is not adequate for making a house and purchasing land in Mizoram so we have asked the Home Minister to increase the amount of money in the declared repatriation package. Several other issues are there but the prime ones are land, financial aid, education, drinking water, development for the Bru people. We still have a demand for a district council as it is necessary for our people’s development,” added Bruno Msho, General Secretary of MBDPF.

He added that those who had returned to Mizoram are either working like slaves for rich families or totally dependent on jhum cultivation but as the Mizoram government has recently banned jhum practice in demarcated forest areas, they has lost their lone source of bread and butter.

Representatives of other organizations which were present in the meeting were those of Naisingpara Bru Relief Camp, Young Bru Association and Bru Socio-cultural Organisation.

However, a major section of the refugees are not very keen to return to their homeland due to the previously stated reasons. “We have no clear idea about our fate, the government is to decide. If the government wishes us to go we shall return and if they want us to stay here we shall stay here but the question is, if we return, will there be peace and security for us? Once we had to flee out of fear of losing our lives and property, now if we return, we will have to live in fear,” said Malati Reang, 65, who lost her family members in the Bru-Mizo communal violence back in October, 1997. She added, “In Tripura if I have a fight then it will be a case of person to person but if the incident is in Mizoram then the entire Lusai (Mizo) community will attack the Bru people.”

Ramkrishna Reang, 22, who gives tuitions to refugee children said, “We are hopeful of our repatriation with the visit of P Chidambaram who alone can solve our problem. We also hope that he will arrange for land and security for the Bru people who will return to Mizoram. However, we need a district council there”.

The Reang-Brus had fled Mizoram on the night of October 15th, 1997 following fierce communal riots between the Brus and Lushais (Mizos) in adjoining North Tripura. They have been sheltered in six camps in Kanchanpur subdivision since then.

Several tripartite talks with active involvement of the Central Government failed to ensure repatriation of the Brus to their homeland as Aizwal was overtly reluctant to take them back.

At a point of time there were about 45,000 displaced Brus in the six camps but the repatriation of Brus started on 21st May 2010 after a gap of 13 years following the written assurances given by the Ministry of Home Affairs for rehabilitation and resettlement to the Brus through its interlocutor Suhas Chakma who is also the Director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights. However, the tribal refugees’ repatriation from Tripura to Mizoram had stopped and was further complicated by violent mobs in the western Mizoram burning down around 500 houses of Brus following the gunning down of a Mizo youth on 13th November 2010.

Suhas Chakma, on the recent development said, “The visit of the Home Minister will be fruitless if he is unable to convince his party leaders, who are at present ruling Mizoram.” He opined that besides the Congress, other frontal and powerful organisations like the Young Mizo Association (YMA) and the apex students’ body Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) should also be brought into confidence as they play a very vital role in the socio-politics of Mizoram.

Now the question is - Will Chidambaram, who is visiting Mizoram next month, be able to sort out the issue with the Mizo Congress leaders and start the process of the ‘Return of the Natives?’

Chandana Bhowmik / Photos from Papan Das