Bru settlement deal may set bad precedent, caution activists

The move, they feel, has set a bad precedent but is the “State-level variant” of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s “national policy of keeping minorities under pressure”.

Published - January 17, 2020 09:53 pm IST - GUWAHATI

A file photo of refugees at a relief camp.

A file photo of refugees at a relief camp.

The agreement to settle some 35,000 Bru tribal people in Tripura and not in Mizoram from where they were displaced, could encourage the creation of ethnocentric States in the northeast, rights activists have said.

The move, they feel, has set a bad precedent but is the “State-level variant” of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s “national policy of keeping minorities under pressure”.

Others agree the “solution” has the potential of creating conflicts between the Brus and indigenous communities of Tripura, but addresses the insecurities of a tribe that survived and fled violence.

More than 40,000 Brus have been living in six refugee camps in northern Tripura’s Kanchanpur sub-division since 1997 when they escaped ethnic violence in adjoining Mizoram. Only about 7,000 refugees returned to Mizoram after nine phases of repatriation till November 30, 2019.

Most of the Brus declined the Centre’s rehabilitation packages citing insecurity and poor living conditions in Mizoram and had demanded the creation of an autonomous council for the community as a precondition for vacating the relief camps.

Financial assistance

The agreement on Thursday among the Centre, the governments of Mizoram and Tripura and leaders of Bru organisations allowed those who have stayed back to be resettled in Tripura. The rehabilitation package offered included financial assistance of ₹4 lakh and land for construction of a house for each family.

“This is not only a bad step but is encouraging the north-eastern States to be more ethnocentric and push out minorities. With this settlement, I am sure all other Brus in Mizoram will either come to Tripura on their own because of the incentives or be driven out because it has given the dominant community the idea that they now have the license to throw others out,” Suhas Chakma of the Delhi-based Rights and Risks Analysis Group said.

The northeast has had a history of ethnic conflicts — not only between the “indigenous” and “settlers” but inter-tribe too — and issues could also arise within smaller sub-groups within the same tribe, he said. For instance, the Rongmei Nagas, most of whom are based in Assam, are deprived of Scheduled Tribe status in Nagaland. Meghalaya meanwhile, has proposed an amendment to the Sixth Schedule for stripping tribes other than the dominant Garo, Khasi and Jaintia from benefits.

“By trying to be large-hearted, you are actually creating conflicts. Questions will arise whether Tripura would accommodate the Chakmas, also being targeted in Mizoram. The Bru decision is basically legitimising at a State-level what the BJP wants at the national level with Muslims,” Mr. Chakma said.

President of the Central Young Mizo Association Vanlalruata said it was improper to label the Mizos as xenophobic.

“Our people and the government gave the Brus several opportunities to return. We have welcomed those who came back. The Brus cannot live in transit camps forever. We have no issues with those identified by the government as Mizoram inhabitants even if they return now in spite of the Tripura rehabilitation offer,” he told The Hindu from Mizoram capital Aizawl.

Guwahati-based Walter Fernandes of the North-Eastern Social Research Centre said the decision has provided the Brus with a solution.

“This is humanitarian from their point of view as they were apprehensive about going back to Mizoram. From another viewpoint, this could lead to a set of people being pushed out of a place and told to resettle elsewhere,” he said.

Impact on citizenship

He added that the decision could also throw up questions of citizenship, specifically in Assam where a process is on to define who is indigenous and who is not. Assam-based activists said the move on the Brus legitimises the settlement of foreigners under Citizenship (Amendment) Act too, creating conflicts with the indigenous people as well as communities that settled earlier.

There are already signs of such conflicts in Kanchanpur area of Tripura where the Brus are expected to be settled. Mr. Fernandes, whose research team worked among the displaced Brus a year ago, said indigenous tribes of Tripura were not keen on sharing resources with the refugees. The non-tribal Bengali people of Tripura felt uneasy too.

Communal clashes had broken out between the Bru refugees and the Bengali people on December 10. The local Reangs — cousins of the Brus — also joined in resulting in at least 90 Bengali families having to take refuge in a relief camp set up by the local administration.

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