Almost two decades on, Mizoram tribals unwilling to leave Tripura

Agartala/Aizawl, June 8 (IANS) It’s been 18 long year since thousands of tribals who fled Mizoram following ethnic violence began living in seven camps in Tripura, and various initiatives to help them go back home have come a cropper.

“After central and Tripura governments’ pressure, the Mizoram government decided to take back the tribal refugees in a phased manner from June 8. Before that, the Mizoram government conducted an identification camp from June 2, but none turned up,” Panisagar Sub-Divisional Magistrate Biplab Das told IANS.

The Reang tribals, who locally call themselves “Bru”, have lived in makeshift camps in northern Tripura since October 1997 when they fled western Mizoram after the killing of a Mizo forest officer triggered ethnic violence.

North Tripura District Magistrate and Collector Santirai Riyan held a meeting with the refugee leaders at Kanchanpur on Sunday and persuaded them to return their homes in Mizoram.

“The refugee leaders told me that they are not prepared to go to their villages in Mizoram. If they are unwilling to go back to their homes, we cannot apply force to repatriate the tribals,” Riyan told IANS.

According to Tripura Relief and Rehabilitation Minister Badal Choudhury, there are 5,286 tribal families comprising 31,223 men, women and children sheltered in seven camps made of bamboo and hemp in Kanchanpur and Panisagar sub-divisions under North Tripura district adjoining Mizoram.

With a total population of around 1.1 million, Mizoram has 86,000 Reang tribals, according to the government of India’s categorisation. Over two lakh Reang tribals also live in Tripura and other northeastern states.

Refugee leader Bruno Msha said that the Mizoram government’s plan to rehabilitate the repatriated refugees is faulty, impractical and unilateral.

“We want a written agreement with the Mizoram government before the repatriation. Central government must be involved in the process,” said Msha, general secretary of the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF), the lone organisation of the refugees.

He told IANS: “We have on a number of occasions told the central and Mizoram governments that the refugees are willing to return to their homes in Mizoram if their 10-point demands, including security and rehabilitation, were met.”

In its six-page memorandum to central ministers who visited the refugee camps on February 14, the MBDPF accused the Mizoram government of discriminating against the tribals.

The Mizoram government remains ambiguous on the refugees’ demands, which also includes free supply of food grain for two years, and allotment of land to them.

Mizo organisations, including Young Mizo Association (YMA), have opposed the MBDPF’s demands.

Msha alongwith other junior leaders said that “the areas selected for rehabilitation of repatriated refugees in Mamit, Lunglei and Kolasib districts are not acceptable, as these areas are mainly in Mizo dominated areas”.

“Despite demands for decades, Mizoram government never gave us permanent land ‘patta’ (land deeds). If we do not have lands to cultivate, how would we survive after getting two years’ free rations after repatriations?” the tribal leader said.

The Mizoram government undertook several phases of repatriation since 2010 but these have met with limited success, partially because the refugee leaders have rejected the compensation package.

As many as 8,573 tribals belonging to 1,622 families have returned to Mizoram since November 2010.

“Those tribals who returned to Mizoram have been leading a miserable life there,” an MBDPF leader said and demanded increase in rehabilitation and resettlement package to Rs.150,000 per family from the stipulated Rs.85,000.

Mizoram’s Additional Home Secretary Lalbiakzama said in Aizawl that following the Supreme Court’s directives of January 16 and the January 30 decision of the union home ministry in a meeting with Mizoram and Tripura government officials, it was proposed to repatriate all the tribal families from Tripura relief camps.

“Mizoram government would go ahead with the planned roadmap for the repatriation of tribals back home from Tripura in spite of no one having turned up for the three-day verification process in north Tripura relief camps,” an official release said in Aizawl.

“The union home ministry has recently released Rs.4.7 crore for the repatriation purposes, but the amount would not be sufficient for repatriation of all the remaining Reang tribal families,” Lalbiakzama said.

Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh and his deputy Kiren Rijiju visited the refugee camps on February 14 and held talks with the refugee leaders. They tried to persuade the tribals to return to their villages in western Mizoram.

Tripura Revenue and Relief Minister Choudhury told IANS: “We urge upon the central government to ask the Mizoram government to take back their refugees.”

“A serious socio-economic problem has cropped up due to the long stay of the refugees in Tripura,” he said.

“Some refugees are involved in terrorist activities. The refugees also work for cheap wages, creating an awkward situation for local labourers,” the minister added.

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