A large majority of voters in Tripura were eagerly waiting for the election results to see which party will form the government. However, the concern for the people belonging to the Bru tribal community — who exercised their franchise in Tripura for the first time — was related to their identity. It was not that they were uninterested in the verdict, but, upon talking to them in detail, one gets the sense that the aspiration for a separate identity looms heavily on their minds.
The Lokniti-CSDS study on the Bru settlements site at Haduklau found that a majority of the families have received most of what was guaranteed in the agreement with the government, but what they are still fighting for is their own identity — for their settlement to be named as Bruhapara (area of Brus).
The process of settling
A large number of people from this community have been living in camps on the boundary of Mizoram and Tripura due to the reluctance of both State governments to allow them to settle in their territory. They were denied many things, voting rights being one of them. But many Brus who were earlier living in Mizoram were enrolled as voters there. They had been living in camps in North Tripura for years and were voting in temporary polling booths managed by the Mizoram government. But this practice was not welcomed by the Mizos. During the subsequent revision in the electoral rolls, names of most of the Brus were deleted from the electoral rolls in Mizoram.
The problem did not end here as the people of Tripura were also reluctant to allow Brus to be enrolled as voters in Tripura. They were also denied rations and other State-sponsored facilities. Clearly, they were neither welcomed by the people of Mizoram nor by the people of Tripura. They were ultimately left to the mercy of the Union government. Finally, the Bru-Reang agreement was signed between the Government of India, the Governments of Tripura and Mizoram and Bru-Reang representatives on January 17, 2020. Of the many promises, one was that the BRU tribe would get all the rights that normal residents of the State receive and be able to enjoy the benefits of social welfare schemes of both the Union government and the State government.
The Lokniti-CSDS study in the Bru resettlement village in Haduklau in Dhalai district, a few days after election, did indicate a very high enrolment (90%) and an even higher voting (more than 96%) among the Bru tribe.
Most of the voters seemed extremely enthusiastic about having voted in these elections, showing the mark on their figure after voting. The enthusiasm was also clearly visible among young and women voters about having their own home after their resettlement in Tripura. They also stated that they were getting support from the government for other livelihood issues, besides their voting rights. The families are entitled to free ration for two years; until the land and jobs that were promised to them are provided by the government.
Most of the families have received the land, the ₹1.5 lakh to build a house alongside and the ₹4 lakh as fixed deposit per family. However, what many of them were still waiting for was the monthly payment of ₹5,000 per family as promised by the government and the land for cultivation which would be their main source of livelihood. At the moment, most of them depend on payment from manual labour, though some have started their own small shops within the settlement.
Talking about their experience of participating in the electoral process, they said they had to walk for more than two kilometres (on average) to cast their vote, as the school (polling station) was at a considerable distance.
It is worth mentioning that though they did mention walking this distance to cast their vote, it was without any sense of complaint or hardship. They were happy that they were voting for the first time after having settled in the new village. Moreover, this issue will be soon resolved as because we also observed that the construction of a government school was ongoing in full swing in the village and would it should be ready within a month or so. The village already had a playschool for children.
Besides schools, a temple and a church were being constructed with the help of the government. Many voters mentioned that there was financial support for building the temple from other groups as well.
Within the Bru community in the settlement, 80% were Hindus and 20% Christians. The houses of Hindus were clearly numbered and marked with the symbol of a Trishul on the front wall. This was clearly done to identify themselves as Hindus, though there was no segregation. The houses of Hindus and Christians were in mixed settlement and not segmented.
The Election Commission and the government have seemingly done remarkable work regarding their settlement, providing them basic facilities and livelihood. One hardly comes across such a high enrolment ratio of voters. It is true that the overall turnout in Tripura had been high (88%) — it was higher at 91% in the previous Assembly election — but the turnout among the Bru community in village was extremely high. One only hopes that the EC would pay similar attention for voter’s registration in other States, especially urban locations such as big cities which witness poor registration ratio.
Sanjay Kumar is Professor and Co-director Lokniti-CSDS, Vibha Attri and Jyoti Mishra are researchers at Lokniti-CSDS.
(The authors wish to thanks ICAS: MP for extending financial support for this detailed case study of the BRU tribes)