Brus resettlement: A saga of conflicting interests and rights

Mrinal Kanti Banik

June 30, 2020, 11:04:04   

The Bru resettlement process has been once again marred with serious protests by several local communities who fear that the resettlement of the Brus in the proposed areas would disturb the local demography and ecology.

Some of the community leaders also pointed out that the Bru resettlement will escalate further communal tension in future in view of the alleged ;trouble creators' tag on the Brus. However, the Brus are still harping on the commitments made by the Tripura government and are waiting calmly for the further developments.

The present: Since last few days, the resettlement process once again evoked attention after Mizorma Chief Minister, in a letter, urged Chief Minister Biplab Kumar Deb to consider the pleas made by local Mizos. Tripura CM however, said that things would be done as the agreement and Tripura Government would follow the agreement signed in presence of Union Home Minister Amit Shah.

Even when Covid 19 threat is looming over, the spell of protests spilled over the North Tripura, Unakoti and Dhalai. Some of the proposed locations witnessed a stalemate, there still a sense of palpable simmering tension in and around the subject of Bru resettlement. In Kanchanpur as specific, Mizo convention and Nagarik Surksha Mancha came under the same umbrella and protested government's decision of encroaching CCRF (Central Catchment Reserve Forest) land which falls in the vicinity of the Mizo settlement.

What the Brus say?

Bru leader Bruno Masho said, Government officials along with Bru representatives were supposed to visit 12 proposed lands for our re-settlement. These areas are scattered in 6 among the 8 districts of the state—North Tripura, Unakoti, Dhalai, Khowai, West Tripura and Sepahijala. "However, after visits in 3-4 areas, administration issued a memo saying that proposed visits in all the areas except Anandabazar CCRF under Kanchanpur had been deferred. Even the sites which could visit, to an utter disappointment, locals of the area were not ready to accept us as their neighbors and came out in numbers to block roads," he added.

One being asked about reason behind such opposition, he said, as per the resettlement pact signed in January 16, 2019, all of the 35,000 to 40,000 Bru community leaders will be settled here in Tripura  in small clusters. In the spot visiting exercises too the Brus are told that the small clusters will be settled in the proposed lands.

"But", he said, "What we have experienced is that, there are some locals who are fomenting troubles and are carrying out all-out efforts to tarnish our community image Even as people are sympathetic to our hardships, they do not feel comfortable with us and allow us to settle in their neighborhood".

On being asked specifically about the reason, he said, there might have been some under carpet politics to defer our resettlement process. The narrow political blame game has once again come into play, he pointed out.

Bruno said, in Kanchanpur, the Mizo convention and the Nagarik Surksha Mancha are playing a key role in instigating the protests where in Unakoti, the Bengali people of both the religious group Hindu and Muslims come against the Brus. Similar protests were seen from the part of Chakma community people. But he felt that all these protests were largely influenced by the protests of Mizo convention and Nagarik Surksha Mancha.

What the Mizo's say?

Mizos living in the Jampui hills are always seen as a dominating power in the peripheries due to their sophisticated lifestyle and philanthropic activities. Thus Mizo convention has grown up as a deciding factor in the Jampui hills which have intensely gone against the resettlement of Brus.

Dr. Z Pichuau the General Secretary of Mizo convention said, "Mizos and Brus are historically the tribes most attached to each other socially, economically, and to a great extent religiously as huge proportions of Brus too are Christians. Our concern is just that if large number of Mizoram refugees get permanent settlement near our traditional land of Jampui Hill, there will be disturbances in demography, social cohesion pattern, ecology and environment. This is because, our Hill does not have adequate forest resources, lands for cultivation and other natural resources to cater for such sudden  population explosion. This is the fact".

He also ruled out that there were no communal issues but when it came to save the ecology all the organizations working in same cause should come forward.

He rather pointed out that the settlement of Brus should be done in areas located close to towns for better economic perspective of the Brus. "It's also better economically for our Mizoram Bru brethren to be rehabilitated in places closer to major national highways, towns, and at other vast empty lands where farming can be practiced in a more sustainable and productive way. And it's good for both the communities to maintain a healthy distance from each other. We both need it to help each other better. This will prevent flaring up of communal tensions from the slightest of misunderstandings and ensure 1997-like ugly incident never happen again!", a long article written by Dr Pichuau reads.

The Nagarik Suraksha Mancha

The Nagarik Suraksha Mancha movement began when the miscreants suspected to be from the Bru relief camps lashed out a series of violent attacks in the Kanchanpur region during the Anti-CAA protests. The local Bengali community people come under one organization and pleaded the government to expedite the repatriation process at the earliest who feared communal clashes might have been broken out between Bengalis and Brus.

Speaking to this reporter, Nagarik Sukrasha Mancha leader Diptendu Nath said, "There is a rationale behind our demand. The Brus are associated with several kinds of anti-social activities if they are once again settled here as Tripura citizens they will once again pose similar problems before us. We need the issue to be sorted out and we are continuously meeting the local administration and apprising prevailing situation". He also pointed out that many of proposed sites were either in Reserve forest areas or in catchment areas – re-settlement in such areas would affect the local ecology as well as livelihood of local people.

 What the Tripura's indigenous bodies say?    

By and large there are no hard hitting comments coming from the local community leaders but there is a palpable undercurrent. "In some areas of North and Khoai district the local tribals have set up makeshift huts in the forest land they have been entitled to carry out cultivation through Patta(lease). The development came right after, some of the spots proposed for Bru settlement had been visited. The attitude showed as to how the locals are indifferent to the Brus," a higher official in the condition of anonymity had said.

The history

The Brus fled from Mizoram  in 1997 and took shelter here in Tripura's six relief camps based at Kanchanpur and Panisagar sub-division of North Tripura district followed by ethnic clashes. After 23 long years, the issue was solved in a quadripartite meeting presided over by Home Minister Amit Shah and had given official nod to resettle them here in Tripura as citizens of Tripura. Notably, both the Mizo Convention and Nagarik Manch were vehemently opposing settlement of Bru in Tripura even before the agreement was signed. After the governments and stakeholders signed the agreement, the situation took an interesting twist regarding Bru re-settlement. A census on the Brus was under process and soon the exact figure of the refugees staying still in the relief camps would be figured out.

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