Civil society groups in Tripura on Monday started an indefinite strike opposing the resettlement of the displaced members of the Bru tribal community in Kanchanpur town, North East Now reported. Kanchanpur in North Tripura shares an inter-state border with Mizoram.

The Joint Movement Committee, a collective of two local ethnic civil societies of North Tripura, the Nagorik Suraksha Mancha and the Mizo Convention, issued the call for Monday’s strike. The demonstrations brought daily activities in the region to a halt, as all trading outlets and vehicle movement were shut throughout the day.

In 1997, the murder of a Mizo forest guard at the Dampa Tiger Reserve in Mizoram’s Mamit district allegedly by Bru militants had led to a violent backlash against the community, forcing several thousand people to flee to neighbouring Tripura. After the backlash in 1997, the displaced Brus took refuge in Kanchanpur. Now, they are spread across seven refugee camps in the Jampui Hills, which separate Tripura from Mizoram and Bangladesh.

There was another exodus 12 years later. In November 2009, Bru militants reportedly killed a Mizo teenager, triggering another spate of retaliatory attacks on the Brus who had stayed behind, forcing many into Tripura once more. Since then, there have been multiple attempts to facilitate the return of the Brus – who are also known as Reangs – to Mizoram over the years, but the government and the community’s leaders have often not been able to agree on the terms of repatriation.

The Joint Movement Committee demands that the Brus be settled in all the eight districts of Tripura, instead of in 12 identified pockets, including the town of Kanchanpur. “The local administration assured us earlier that 1,500 families would be resettled in this area,” JMC Chairperson Dr Zairemthiama Pachuau told The Indian Express. “But now they are trying to settle 6,000 families.”

In January this year, the Centre signed a four-corner agreement to resolve the 23-year old crisis in Tripura and announced that over 33,000 Bru migrants, living in six relief camps since October 1997, would be settled in the state. A package of Rs 600 crore was announced for this.

Panchau fears the resettlement plan would affect the local demography, social, ecological and environmental balance of the region. “This can’t be accepted,” he said.

Bru leaders meet Chief Secretary Manoj Kumar

A delegation of Bru leaders met Chief Secretary Manoj Kumar at the state secretariat in Agartala on Monday. Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples’ Forum General Secretary Bruno Msha told The Indian Express that the discussion went on for two hours, during which they requested to consider four alternative resettlement spots out of the 12 decided by the government.

The leaders of the tribal community also demanded equal package for all displaced Brus, and requested the government to ensure the availability of basic amenities such as road connectivity, electricity, safe drinking water, school and healthcare before they are physically shifted from the camps.

Besides, the migrants reiterated their demand for the immediate issuance of Scheduled Tribe certificates, permanent residence certificates and enrolment in ration cards and electoral rolls to enable them to enjoy government scheme benefits.

Msha said the Tripura government agreed to include four of the existing relief camps in Naisinghpara, Ashapara, Kaskau and Hazacherra as permanent resettlement spots.

On the indefinite strike at Kanchanpur, the Bru leaders told the newspaper that they trust the government. “Mizo Convention and Nagorik Suraksha Mancha are objecting to our resettlement process formula,” the Bru leader said. “We have nothing to say about their movement. It is their Constitutional right. We have faith on the government that it will take necessary action.”