DAMDIAI (MIZORAM), Jan 18 � More than thirteen years since Bru villagers fled their homeland in Mizoram to take shelter in refugee camps in Tripura, their early return has come under a cloud with both the Mizoram Government and the Bru leaders continuing to adopt adversarial positions. In the process what have been relegated to the background are the humanitarian issues concerning some 30,000 displaced Bru people.
A first-ever team of visiting journalists making a round of Damdiai village on Saturday last, about one-hour drive by road from the western district headquarter town of Mamit, where about 84 Bru families have been repatriated in 2006, witnessed abject poverty and hunger afflicting the people. Their faces betrayed a sense of despondency and frustration though they did not express it.
Surjyamani, chairman of the Bru Coordination Committee revealed that there were 5,481 Bru families totaling nearly 30,000 men, women and children who were staying in refugee camps in Tripura since 1997, of whom only 322 families have been repatriated to Mizoram. �The others will come back only if the Government of Mizoram fulfils the conditions in the Memorandum of Understanding signed with the Bru National Liberation Front (BNLF)�, said he, who was the former president of the outfit. In 2005, 195 cadres of the outfit had surrendered and they were rehabilitated at Damdiai village.
�The refugees demand a written document stating the rehabilitation grant of Rs 80,000 and one year provision of ration. They also demand that there should be no clubbing of Bru refugees in Mizo villages�, said the refugee leader. � Contrary to the agreement, the Mizoram Government is forcing the Brus to settle in Mizo villages�, he alleged adding �security of the Brus is an issue and we want Central security forces to provide us protection.�
Ramchhana, 30, another Bru refugee settled in the village said �There is acute shortage of land around the village as all available land has been occupied by surrounding Mizo villagers. Without land we have no other means for our livelihood. Some land has been allotted to us about 4-5 kms away which is too far for convenience�, he pointed out.
However, Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla on Friday accused the Bru leaders in the refugee camps in Tripura of obstructing the entire repatriation process. �The Bru leaders are making a business of the rehabilitation grants. They know the camps will be dismantled and money will stop flowing once the refugees are repatriated to Mizoram�, he added.
He further alleged that a good number of non-resident Brus were staying in the refugee camps. �We will allow only the genuine residents of the State to come back to Mizoram for settlement. The government will provide them a rehabilitation grant of Rs 80,000 besides land. The New Land Use Project launched on Friday will also cover the Bru people�, he disclosed.