Recently, some parts of North Tripura witnessed violence over the issue – of the quadripartite pact signed in 2020, to permanently resettle the Bru refugees of Mizoram, in Tripura – took 2 lives – that of fireman Biswajit Debbarma (a tribal) and carpenter Srikanta Das (a Bengali).
The violence was due to the shutdown called by the Joint Movement Committee (JMC) of Kanchanpur subdivision of North Tripura district, formed together by Nagarik Suraksha Manch, a Bengali organisation, and by Jamui Mizo Hill Convention, a Mizo organisation, opposing the resettlement of more than 500 Bru families in the area.
The JMC claimed that there were attempts to rehabilitate 5000 Bru families only in Kanchanpur – a claim which the state government, although too late, has strongly refuted and claimed as false. After this statement, JMC too decided to call off the shutdown.
Politics Of Tripura & The Ethnic Divide
The Bru community of Mizoram, mostly Hindus and animists, fled the state alleging persecution at the hands of Christian Mizos (1) in 1997, and since then, they have been living in seven refugee camps situated in Kanchanpur and Panisagar of North Tripura district.
It has to be mentioned that during the anti-CAA protests, the Bengalis of Kanchanpur alleged that tribals, including the Bru refugees, attacked them.
A fact that can’t be denied is that this long shutdown in the area could have been prevented had the state government bothered to communicate with JMC at the very beginning.
Even Chief Minister Biplab Deb broke his silence over the shutdown only a couple of days after the violence, where he reiterated that Brus would be resettled in the state but this would be done by having dialogue with all sections. This was a much-needed statement from the head of the state – but it was too little, too late.
Amid all of this, the scars of the 8-day-long shutdown, that resulted in violence, remains. In Tripura, which was once a tribal majority state, politics often revolves around ethnic issues – the divide between Bengalis and tribals. The Indigenous People’s Front of Tripura (IPFT), the tribal party which is also a partner in the Biplab Deb-led BJP government, has demanded the arrest of the JMC members (2).
Also, on 25 November 2020, the Tripura People’s Front (TPF), another tribal party, observed a 12 hour strike in tribal areas, protesting the death of the tribal fireman (3).
The tribals have been alleging that they aren’t receiving their due in the state – this emotion has been successfully utilised by IPFT in their demand for a separate ‘Twipraland’, an illogical divisive demand despised mainly by the majority Bengalis and other small non-tribal communities. This demand is also not supported by a section of tribals.
The allegations of victimhood by the tribals aren’t baseless. From 1993-1998, the CPM government was led by popular tribal leader late Dasarath Deb – the only tribal chief minister in the state till date. Due to his ill-health, Deb refused to contest the next elections and as a result in 1998, CPM made Manik Sarkar the chief minister of the state – who remained in the post till 2018. Importantly, one of the main reasons of the juggernaut CPM’s defeat in 2018 was due to the alleged sidelining of its tribal face Jitendra Chaudhury, who was removed from the State Cabinet and sent to national politics through the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
‘Outsiders Vs Insiders’
The BJP, aware of the state’s ethnic divide, has made Jishnu Dev Barman, who also belongs to the state’s royal family, the deputy chief minister of the state.
The Brus – who are called Reangs in Tripura – are the second largest tribal community in the state after the Tripuris. According to Tripura’s royal scion Pradyot Deb Barman, a former Congress leader – who now heads a non-political organisation called The Indigenous Progressive Regional Alliance (TIPRA) – Brus from Tripura (a section) went to Mizoram back in the 1940s (4). after they were displaced due to a hydro project, but they had to live there as second-class citizens.
Notably, the Hojagiri dance, the popular traditional dance of Tripura, is practised by the Reang (Bru) community on the occasion of Laxmi Puja – which is held on the following full-moon night after the Durga Puja (5).
So, it is wrong to view the present opposition to the resettlement only through the prism of outsiders vs insiders – Brus, after all, aren’t really ‘outsiders’ in Tripura. That’s why the present opposition by the Bengalis and Mizos of Kanchanpur against Bru resettlement isn’t seen by the tribals in a positive way.
The Bru refugees, no doubt, have to be rehabilitated in the state, as promised to them through the pact. However, the rehabilitation of the Brus isn’t an easy process and the BJP government has to always remain ready for dialogue on this issue to prevent further law and order problems in the north-eastern state, which has a violent history of ethnic tensions between the Bengali and the tribal community.
(Sagarneel Sinha is a freelance writer from Tripura who writes on politics, foreign affairs and Indian mythology. He tweets @SagarneelSinha. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)