Bru Tribe : Refugee In Their Own Country


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MUMBAI – MAHARASHTRA – INDIA           MARCH 07, 2014           00.30 A.M.

Frankly speaking , few weeks back , I was unaware of the existence of Bru tribe of Mizoram . Years ago I had read about some conflict between Mizos of Mizoram and one particular tribe living there , near Bangla Desh and Tripura border . I knew that these days that particular tribe live in Tripura in exile. But apart from that I have not heard anything about Brus . When last week I read a couple of articles in Times of India and Hindustan Times , I came to know that the tribe in question is Bru and they are living in tents as refugee in their own country since 17 years.

The roots of the conflict can be traced to 1994, when a political party called the Bru National Union (BNU) was formed to promote the tribe’s welfare. In September 1997, at a conference in Saipuilui village in Mamit district, the BNU adopted a resolution to demand for an Autonomous District Council (ADC) for Brus in the western belt of Mizoram. Mizoram is predominantly inhabited by Mizos. Other tribes in the state include the Hmars, the Lai and the Chakmas, each of whom have their own ADC. Interestingly, though the Brus are the largest minority in Mizoram their demand for an ADC went unheeded. “What was wrong with that demand?” asks Elvis Chorkhy, chairman of the Bru Coordination Committee that has been working with the government to repatriate the Brus. “ Was it so unconstitutional as to lead to the physical torture and harassment of the Brus ?”

The bloody ethnic clashes of 1997 displaced  over 4000 Brus initially . They fled to neighbouring Assam and Tripura’s sleepy town of Kanchanpur , which lies about 45 km from the Mizoram border. 17 years ago, thousands of Brus fleeing attacks from Mizos took refuge here. Many crossed the border on foot. The displaced Brus put up temporary shelters on the lower tracts of the Jampui hills that separate Tripura from Mizoram and Bangladesh. Today, there are over 35,000 Internally Displaced Persons languishing in the seven camps spread over the region. Here, scores live amidst filth and human waste with small mountain streams being the only source of drinking water. The incident, like many others in the North East India , hardly made it to the national media , print and electronic both .

http://www.hindustantimes.com/Images/popup/2014/2/india-maps.jpg

[.........The Map of Mizoram showing Bru Dominated Areas & Area of Bru Refugee Camps in Tripura ]

To know more about the Bru tribe , I checked Wikipedia and came to know a fascinating history about them . I am reproducing the Wikipedia article in verbatim .

The history of Bru (Reangs)

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The Bru are the second most populous tribe of Tripura after the Tripuris. According to the legend, a Tripuri prince who was once exiled by the King made his way, along with his followers, to the Mayani Thalang area of Lushai hills [ now Mizoram ] and founded a state over there. He proclaimed himself King and his descendants too ruled over the break-away state for generations. As it sometimes happens, there came a time when there was no heir to succeed to the throne, leading to anarchy in the kingdom. At around the same time, bitter feud and internal vendetta saw four chiefs of the following sub tribes Twikluha, Yongsika, Paisika, Tuibruha leave their hearth and home along with their entourages to migrate back to the state of Tripura. It was a long and difficult journey, fraught with danger and the travellers had to make more than a couple of attempts before they successfully made their way up the Dombur hill.

At the time, Mahendra Manikya ruled the kingdom of Tripura. The chiefs made many attempts to reach the King to request asylum. They approached ministers, bureaucrats, and courtiers for help in arranging a meeting with the King but with no success. By this time, they had exhausted their supplies and were rather anxious to catch the attention of the King. Finally in desperation, they breached the dam on the river Gumti where worshippers had gathered for prayers. This was a serious crime and all of them were immediately apprehended and brought before the king. The crime was a serious one and merited capital punishment. But before the King could pass his judgement, the chiefs managed to send word to the Queen Gunoboti. They begged her for help and she persuaded the King to forgive them. The chiefs swore fealty to the Queen and to the throne of Tripura and settled down in the Kingdom. Popular legend has it that the Queen even offered the chiefs breast milk, to symbolize their new parent-child relationship, in a large brass pan which was gifted to the chiefs along with other valuable things, carefully preserved by Reangs till date.

The latest episode in the ongoing conflict between Mizos and Brus came on November 23 , 2013 . It was two days before the Mizoram assembly elections, when Bru militants allegedly belonging to the Bru Democratic Front of Mizoram (BDFM) and helped by members of the National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) abducted three young men.

The incident reignited the long-standing conflict between the Mizos and the minority Brus . Enraged by the abduction of the Mizos, several protests spearheaded mostly by the powerful NGOs MZP and the Young Mizo Association (YMA) were organised throughout the state. Subsequently, local village headmen were threatened with dire consequences if they did not ask the militants to release the Mizos.

In modern Mizoram one can find the Mizo mindset about Bru tribe in a Mizoram Home department letter sent to National Human Rights Commission . In the letter dated February 10, the Home department of the Mizoram government listed the reasons that led to the original conflict between the Mizos and the Brus. According to the document, the Brus — recognised as Reangs as per the Constitution (Schedule Tribes) Order, 1950 — fled persecution in the erstwhile Tippera kingdom (now divided between Tripura and Bangladesh) to arrive in Mizoram in the early 1940s. “Brus have always been outsiders and can never be a part of the larger Mizo culture,” says Lalmuanpuia Punte, who was MZP’s president in 1997.

The Mizos say the Bru exodus of 1997 can be traced to a ‘circular’ signed by Bruno Msha, who was then the Bru Student Union president and is currently the general secretary of the Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples’ Forum (MBDPF). Dated March 1998, the ‘circular’ asks all Bru headmen to evacuate their villages and leave Mizoram because of a possible clash between Bru militants and Mizoram security personnel. Msha, who denies signing any such document, claims the story is a Mizo attempt to blame Bru militants for the exodus.

Each side might apportion blame to the other but ultimately, the ethnic violence of 1997 pushed many Brus into relief camps in a remote part of Tripura that borders Mizoram and Bangladesh.

Things, however, continue to look bleak for over 35,000 people still stuck in the forgotten camps of Tripura. A report by the Asian Indigenous and Tribal Peoples Network says ‘The ration quota is so inadequate that Brus do not report deaths as it means a further reduction of the rations’. The abject conditions and the lack of employment and education have made the camps a good recruiting ground for militants. Many young Brus have missed out on education and cannot even get job cards under central government schemes. “This is why we are asking for a Primitive Group Program and a development council which will look after the upliftment of the community once it is repatriated,” says Bruno Msha of the MBDPF.

Adults get a cash dole of Rs. 150 per month and 600 gms of rice per day while minors get half that amount. This is much less than other internally displaced groups like the Kashmiri Pandits and even the Sri Lankan refugees in Tamil Nadu have received in the past. Leaders of the MBDPF maintain that unless compensation is increased, no one will go back. Both the home department and Mizo organisations, allege that any attempts at repatriation are foiled by the staging of untoward incidents. The Bru side alleges that it is a conspiracy by Mizos who don’t want Brus to return. With only 5,627 people rehabilitated until last October, the Mizoram government has a mammoth task on its hands. “It has become necessary to remove those camps and resettle the displaced. We are losing precious time and a generation of kids is losing their future. The process needs to be expedited,” said Chorkhy.

But who cares? Mizoram government of Indian National Congress is heartless . National media is silent . National parties are ignorant . Few thousand Brus are insignificant for electoral arithmetic . So these hapless citizens of India are languishing in refugee camps . They are homeless in their own homeland .

According to me Bharatiya Janata Party should do something for these children of lesser God . It may not help electorally , but it is a national cause . A whole generation of Brus are getting deprived of their rights . We must stand for them . Politics is one thing , humanity is something else .

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On behalf of all the students and staff of VIDUR Acting Institute , I express my solidarity with the Bru tribe , who , like Kashmiri Pandits , are refugee in their own country .

VIDUR Editing Studio , VIDUR Club and VIDUR Theatre would also like to express solidarity with them . We wish their speedy rehabilitation .

[ This blog is not written by me in toto . I have taken excerpts from Wikipedia and quoted from the articles published in Times of India and Hindustan Times and simply re-arranged and re-produced those articles here . I express my gratitude . Views expressed about Brus are mine . ]

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Arun Shanbhag

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