Anandabazar, a commercial center in the Reang tribal area in the north of Tripura, means market of happiness. The name was given by Bengali refugees from what is now Bangladesh during the division of India and may reflect their state of mind to get a piece of land to rebuild their lives.
But Anandabazar is far from the image of happiness that it has been since December 10, 2019, when about 150 "villains" searched and looted the shops and homes of 93 Bengali families. These families have since lived in the barracks, in the official quarters and on the second floor of the Anandabazar police station.
“It is not the first time that we have to vacate our houses. After a series of violent incidents from 2000 to 2003, we became refugees. Some of us left Anandabazar for good. Aren't we humans enough to earn a fear free life and a rehabilitation package similar to that of the Brus? "Asked Rathindra Kumar Roy, general secretary of the Anandabazar Displaced People & # 39; s Committee.
On February 19, Chandrani Chandran, the magistrate of the Kanchanpur subdivision, visited the displaced Bengalis to spread the news that the Tripura government had decided to end their free rations and close the camp at the police station. “There has been peace since the incident in which they left their homes. The compensation issues can be resolved after leaving the camp, ”she said.
Anandabazar is 14 miles from Kanchanpur, the headquarters of one of the three departments in the North Tripura District. These families, who are now 117 and seek refuge from nearby villages, have refused to move until the state government compensates for their losses and ensures security for them at home.
The houses of the displaced Bengal are located within 300 meters of the Anandabazar police station, which has been under siege for more than 70 days. Apart from the barracks, the quarters of some 20 police officers are home to some displaced families. "The government asked them to leave, but we cannot use violence. We hope that these families respect the government. We are trained to endure the pressure from the police, but it is difficult when you barely have a place to rest, ”said Keshab Ranjan Jamatia, who is responsible for the police station.
But Sudhir Roy and Ashutosh Das are afraid to become "soft targets" again. Roy's house, partially damaged with almost everything from his wife's jewelry to poultry and goats, is barely 50 meters from the police station. "What is the guarantee that the refugees who are encouraged by the size of the government will not attack us again," Roy asked. With refugees, he meant that the Bru community was driven out of Mizoram and had been living in seven relief camps in the north of Tripura for more than two decades, which brought them into close contact with the Bengalis. Although the attack on non-tribal people in December was the result of protests against the 2019 Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA), Bengali organizations believe that the "outsider" Brus, not their local tribesmen, have targeted them, to occupy their houses.
"New refugees as bad guys"
The Brus, called Tuikuks by other tribes in Mizoram, are called Tripura Reangs. They count approximately 2 Lakh in Tripura and form the majority of the 1.09,648 planned tribes (2011 census) in the North Tripura district, followed by the communities of Chakma and Tripuri. The district has 3,34,931 non-tribesmen, but they are less numerous in the Kanchanpur subdivision, where Anandabazar is located, and in the Damcherra block of the Panisagar subdivision, which is subordinate to the Tripura Tribal Territory Autonomous District Council (TTAADC) ,
Four of the seven Bru refugee camps are located in the Kanchanpur subdivision and three in the Damcherra block. The largest of these with around 3,000 families is Naisingpara and the smallest is Nabajoipara with around 300 families. Both are in the Kanchanpur subdivision. Nabajoipara got its name from the "newcomers" Brus who fled Mizoram in 2009 from a second round of ethnic tensions. Their arrival contributed to around 32,000 refugees who came after the first wave of violence in 1997.
“Every problem needs a bad guy. The internally displaced who are far from their roots and cannot go anywhere else are easily responsible for any illness, ”said A. Sawibunga, president of the Mizoram Bru Displaced People & # 39; s Forum. He stays in the Naisingpara camp. “We were accused in Mizoram; we are now accused. When extremist groups in Tripura were behind the attacks on Bengal in 2000, the incidents in December were the result of anti-CAA protests, in which some of our youths may have been involved without our knowledge. "
The Mizoram Bru Displaced People & # 39; s Forum was one of the five Bru organizations that signed the resettlement plan involving the center and state governments of Mizoram and Tripura. The others were the Mizoram Bru Displaced People & # 39; s Coordination Committee, the Mizoram Bru Indigenous Democratic Movement, the Bru Tribal Development Society and the Bru Displaced Welfare Organization.
On December 14, Kanchanpur police recorded a case against "26 and others" for violence during the anti-CAA protests. Among the 26 named, 14 were reangs and 12 were Bengalis. There is no clarity about how many of the reangs are refugees. However, the locals said that all of the Bengalis mentioned are members of the opposition Communist Party of India (Marxist), which governs the 30-member TTAADC that the Bharatiya Janata Party wants to win with or without the Tripura indigenous people (IPFT) front. BJP and IPFT jointly rule Tripura. On the same day, the state election commission informed the TTAADC of the elections. The data was not released as the process of increasing the number of seats in the Tribal Council to 50 is pending.
"Given the sensitivity of the problem, we are carefully examining the cases to identify the troublemakers," said Kanchanpur's police officer Bikramjit Suklabaidya.
The Nagarik Suraksha Mancha, a front formed after the violence to protect the Bengalis on December 10, believes that the Brus are being used in a conspiracy to gradually drive the non-tribal people out of the TTAADC areas in which the land rights of tribesmen are protected, the sixth timetable of the constitution. “To be considered humanitarian, the BJP government in the center and Tripura has fallen into the trap of cleaning up the Bengal tribal areas and other non-tribesmen like the Buddhist Baruas. The rehabilitation of Brus from Mizoram is causing more and more Bengal to be displaced internally, but very few, including the administration, agree with our plight because we do not fit into the victim's narrative, ”said Manchu President Ranjit K. Nath. He added that the CAA had given the "xenophobic elements" a weapon to create a gap between tribal and non-tribal peoples who had been living peacefully together for decades, with the exception of some incidents for which some Bru refugees were responsible.
Land for Bengal
Manchu has blamed TIPRA (The Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance), a newly formed "apolitical party", for the plight of the Bengalis. TIPRA is headed by Pradyot Manikya Debbarma, former President of the State Congress and offspring of the Tripura Royal Family and signatory to the Brus Relocation Agreement to the State. According to Mancha, Debbarma's political ambition undone what his grandmother, Queen Kanchan Prava Devi, had done for the Bengali-Hindu victims of the division. On February 9, the Mancha filed an FIR against Debbarma for allegedly raising feelings against the Bengalis.
"Much of the Tripura kingdom was lost to East Pakistan, but the kings had a soft corner for the Bengali refugees from 1947-49, most of whom were their subjects. The Queen took the initiative to establish the Swasti Samabay Samiti (Cooperative), one of the oldest cooperatives in India, and to settle the Bengalis affected by the division on 1,000 drunes Land in the hills of northern Tripura, ”said Agartala-based researcher and author Pannalal Roy.
The Samiti allows its 3,500 members to settle on certain properties within the 1,000 drune, which is 4,026.06 acres, without property. Members can also transfer land by paying a fee to the Samiti. The agreement, members said, somewhat isolates non-tribesmen from the sixth country restrictions on land. In a letter to Governor Ramesh Bais on January 21, Samiti chairman Kamal Krishna Nath explained how the Bengalis have borne the brunt of Bru refugee pressure since 1997. In addition to restoring the country that had become free, he also tried to demarcate the country for non-tribesmen from the Bengalis because of years of violence and intimidation.
“Since 2000-2001, the government has not only not responded to a series of attacks on the Bengali population, it has also not handed over the 1,000 hectares of land to the Samiti. A 1954 survey found that 803 drunes had been handed over, which was later noted in the 2008 local government report. From the assigned land, our members have over 650 drunes available due to the areas designated for roads, government offices and schools. Said Nath. The Samiti also said they had provided about 30 drunes to help the government build some camps for the Bru refugees.
In Dasda, halfway between Kanchanpur and Anandabazar, around 290 Bengali families have lived in a makeshift colony since being displaced by violence in 2000. “We helped the Brus in many ways when they came, but they made us flee our homes. We somehow managed to survive, even though the government ended the relief after six years. Whether the Left Front used to be or the BJP now, the government has shown that we don't care, ”said Arun Chandra Nath of Udbastu (distributed) Unnayan Samiti on the outskirts of Dasda.
The pressure from the refugees, the Dasda locals said, was also felt by the region's tribal Lushais. About 60 families of the Lushais – Tripura's Mizos – moved to the North Tripura district's Jampui Hills during the violence in 2000, fearing a backlash from the Brus who fled retaliation in Mizoram after an extremist Bru group in 1997 killed an employee of the Mizo Ministry of Forests.
Who are the outsiders?
"We have no conflict with the local reangs and other tribes, but the government must abolish the agreement and have the Brus returned to Mizoram so that we can live in peace again. We have endured the outsiders for too long and can understand why the Mizoram government was happy to have Tripura rehabilitated, ”said Manchu Secretary General Diptanu Nath.
"Who said they were outsiders? The Brus are our own people who were driven out by the Dumboor Dam (in the Gomati District), which in 1974 sank 70 square miles of prime agricultural land for an energy project that only gave us 2 MW of electricity. Fate was cruel to them and they were driven out of Mizoram two decades later, ”said Debbarma.
He dismissed the Mancha claim that he had fueled community tensions by consolidating the 19 planned Tripura tribes and fighting them against the Bengal on the pretext of opposing the CAA. The royal family belongs to one of these tribes. “The people of SC, ST and the general caste have stayed together and there is no reason why they cannot continue doing this despite the problem of Bru's resettlement. I am not trying to cause communal unrest, but at the same time I do not think it is wrong to fight for your own people. The last 70 years have given nothing to the indigenous people. We need to create unity so that we can first claim our economic and land rights and then strive for political rights, ”said Debbarma. “Unlike all the leaders who have given speeches against me, I donated £ 1.5 to the Bengali people concerned. I don't like how to share and rule them. "
IPFT believes that Bru's resettlement would not have been a major problem if the CAA had not come at this point. "The tribal groups believe that exempting the tribal areas from the CAA would not help because a sudden increase in population in the unplanned areas (beyond TTAADC) could ultimately affect state resources, including areas under TTAADC," said the president of IPFT, NC Debbarma.
The fear is due to the demographic change in Tripura over the years. In 1941, the tribes in what is now Tripura made up 50.09% of the population, while the non-tribal population, mainly Bengal, was 49.91%. By 1951, the tribal population had dropped to 37.23%. The 2011 census showed a decrease in their population to 31.8% compared to 68.2% of non-tribesmen.
The Bengalis see a plan in the relocation of Brus to close the population gap, at least in some tribal areas. "But our people are moving to non-tribal areas. This emerges from the electoral roll of the constituency of the Kanchanpur Assembly, in which 5,000 Bengali voters were more than tribal voters in 1993. There are 5,000 more tribal voters today, and we suspect the increase is due to the addition of Brus to the electoral roll. Said Shailendra Nath, a Bengali leader of the Satnala area near Kanchanpur.
Officials in Tripura denied accepting the refugees as voters. Mizoram also has to delete the names of around 12,000 Brus that would be relocated to Tripura.
The way forward
Most importantly, tribal leaders said, the determination of the central and state governments to adhere to the Brus resettlement schedule is to ensure that local tribes and the Bengal do not feel threatened.
But social wounds take some time to heal, and local reangs also seem to feel the heat, even though they belong to the same ethnic group as the refugees. There are reports of local tribes outnumbering where the Bru relief camps are located and taking out bank loans to build border walls around their country. The police recorded some minor clashes between the refugees and the local reangs. “The locals were not asked about the resettlement plan, but we can share our resources with our less fortunate brothers and sisters from Mizoram. We cannot say what will happen in the future, but the original residents must not be affected, ”said Jogendra Reang, former president of the Anandabazar Committee. He admitted some cultural differences to the Brus, "which have some Mizo traits."
A major problem is the lack of space in some parts of TTAADC, particularly in the North Tripura district, where population density is above the state average. The Tripura government has assured local tribes and Bengali settlers that their land will not be touched while responding to the Bru's call to be settled in groups of no less than 500 families across the state.
"We are looking at slightly degraded forest areas and places where they can also do agriculture," said Chandran, the Kanchanpur SDM. On February 18, it issued an order to identify four locations with a total area of 2,302.6 hectares for the temporary settlement of 1,950 of the 4,744 families in the auxiliary camps of the Kanchanpur subdivision. "During the physical review, the teams were told to avoid Patta Land and to make sure the land was road connected and not stress free," she said.
A similar exercise was performed in the adjacent Panisagar subdivision, where another 1,000 families sought refuge. The authorities in the two subdivisions have already physically checked the brus living in the camps to find out their actual number. Officials have not recognized families who have no document about their stay in Mizoram. The refugee population is believed to be "much more than the estimated 35,000", but data is expected to be released within 150 days of the agreement's signature when the land is allocated to the beneficiaries.
For Laldinpuia, a 57-year-old inmate from the Naisingpara camp, the final move would be the end of his dream of returning to Darla, his village in Mizoram, about 100 km away. He wished Mizoram's 40,000 Brus, including the 328 families who had used the rehabilitation package, to return by November 2019. “This place has been our home for more than 20 years. We picked up the pieces with refugees from different parts of Mizoram, many of whom were strangers. We are happy with the way things are going, but the sad part is that many of us would have to live far apart, ”he said.
“It is a pity that the Mizoram government was unable to change its stance and make us feel wanted and safe, unlike in Tripura. We are grateful to the central BJP government and the state and Bubagra (king in Kokborok language, which means Pradyot Manikya) for finding a solution to our problem. We have sometimes been accused of biting our hands that fed us, but we want to go forward and coexist with the local tribes and the Bengalis. After suffering as displaced people, it is unthinkable for us to make other refugees, ”said Bruno Msha, general secretary of the Mizoram Bru Displaced People & # 39; s Forum. The brus, he added, longed to remove the "Mizoram" and "Displaced" tags. "The faster it is, the better," he said, hoping for a Tripura where no community could be held responsible for the displacement of another.