Being Bru in Mizoram

For the first time since fleeing to neighbouring Tripura 21 years ago, the displaced Brus of Mizoram exercised their franchise on home soil during the Assembly polls on November 28. Rahul Karmakar reports on the changing dynamic between the minority Brus and the dominant Mizos and the possibility of greater acceptance of the ‘other’ Lalvungthanga, 67, misses being Nanda Kumar Reang. He also misses his younger brother, Shibajoy, who refused to return with him from a refugee camp in Tripura 20 years ago. Unlike Lalvungthanga, who adopted a name associated with the dominant Mizo community in Mizoram and converted to Christianity 40 years ago, Shibajoy retained Reang, his surname as well as the name of the ethnic group he belongs to. The Reangs of Mizoram prefer to be called Bru. On November 28, the brothers connected in a strange way. They voted almost at the same time in Mizoram, but miles apart. Lalvungthanga cast his vote at a polling centre at Bawngva Government Primary School in Mamit district. Shibajoy voted at a special polling centre for Bru refugees in Kanhmun, a village in the State, 63 km away on the border with Tripura, off National Highway 44A that connects Aizawl to Tripura. The Kahnmun polling centre catered to Brus displaced from nine Assembly constituencies in Mizoram’s Mamit, Kolasib and Lunglei districts. The majority of Brus are from Mamit district, which borders Tripura. “I came to know that he had come from the Narsingpara relief camp (in Tripura) to vote in Mizoram,” says Lalvungthanga. The Tripura government arranged transport for 11,987 Bru voters across six relief camps in Tripura to come and vote in Kanhmun, a village of some 3,000 people on the eastern bank of the Langkaih river flowing along the Tripura-Mizoram border. A 60 m Bailey bridge connects Kanhmun with the other bank in Tripura. Between the nearest relief camp in Tripura, 2 km from the bridge, and the farthest 57 km away, is Narsingpara, Shibajoy’s temporary home since 1997, when thousands of Brus fled to Tripura following a major outbreak of ethnic violence. The Mizo-Bru conflict claimed at least 10 lives and was marked by large-scale arson. Recalls Lalvungthanga: “We ran away too, though no one attacked our village. We got scared when we heard that some of our people in Saipuili village, 8 km from ours, were attacked. But I returned a year later after seeing many people die of starvation and diseases in Tripura. I preferred to die in my homeland rather than elsewhere.” He hopes Shibajoy will be back soon. “Today, he stepped on his own soil to vote. Tomorrow, perhaps, he will find the motivation to leave the relief camp, where life is unbearable,” he says. Fear of ‘outsiders’ In the recent Assembly election, Bru refugees came to Mizoram to vote, unlike in the past when polling officials from Mizoram went to relief camps in Tripura to conduct the elections. Mizoram’s church-backed non-governmental organisation Coordination Committee, a conglomeration of five Mizo social organisations which includes the influential Central Young Mizo Association (CYMA), had demanded an end to the earlier voting arrangement which, it alleged, had allowed “outsiders” to creep into the State’s electoral rolls. There is a perception that many Brus are not original inhabitants of Mizoram and are migrants from Assam, Tripura or Bangladesh. But the process of enrolling Bru voters in the camps in Tripura ran into complications. Allegations of manipulation to include ‘outsiders’ in the list led to the removal of Bhupesh Choudhary as the Deputy Commissioner of Mamit district in September. His counterpart in Kolasib, T. Arun, accused of a similar ‘anti-Mizo’ drive, stayed on, but vociferous protests made the Election Commission replace S.B. Shashank with Ashish Kundra as the State’s Chief Electoral Officer. Apart from allegedly trying to let Brus in through the ‘backdoor’, Shashank had complained against Mizoram’s former Principal Secretary (Home) Lalnunmawia Chuaungo, a Mizo IAS officer of the Gujarat cadre on deputation, for reportedly interfering in the poll process. Chuaungo was moved out of the State.

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