People from the Halam sub-tribe, who fled to Assam after confrontations with Bru refugees in north Tripura, have returned to their hamlet Damcherra in Tripura’s North district.
The Brus arrived in Tripura in 1997 to flee an ethnic conflict in Mizoram, where they set up camp in six relief camps in the North District.
Sub-tribes of the Halam:
- The Halam communities (recognised as a scheduled tribe in Tripura) are Kuki-Chin tribes of the Tibeto-Burmese ethnic group.
- Their language is also related to that of the Tibeto-Burmans in some ways.
- Halams are also known as Mila Kuki, despite the fact that they are not Kukis in terms of language, culture, or way of life.
- The Halams are divided into various sub-clans known as “Barki-Halam.” Koloi, Korbong, Kaipeng, Bong, Sakachep, Thangachep, Molsom, Rupini, Rangkhowl, Chorai, Lankai, Kaireng (Darlong), Ranglong, Marchafang, and Saihmar are the major Halam sub-clans.
- According to the 2011 Census, they have a total population of 57,210 people spread over the state.
- The Halams live in a traditional “Tong Ghar” built of bamboo and Chan grass. They still undertake Jhum farming in addition to plain land cultivation and rely on these activities in addition to other alternative works.
- Bru or Reang is a Northeast Indian ethnic group that lives primarily in Tripura, Mizoram, and Assam. They are designated as a Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Group in Tripura.
- They have been targeted in Mizoram by groups who do not consider them Mizoram’s indigenous people.
- Nearly 37,000 Brus evacuated Mamit, Kolasib, and Lunglei districts of Mizoram in 1997 as a result of ethnic conflicts, and were housed in relief camps in Tripura.
- Damcherra is the final village in Tripura before the state border with Mizoram.
- Since then, 5,000 people have been repatriated to Mizoram in eight phases, while 32,000 people remain in six relief camps in North Tripura.
- In June 2018, community representatives from the Bru camps reached a repatriation deal with the Centre and the two state governments in Mizoram. The agreement’s parameters, however, were rejected by the majority of camp inmates.
- A quadripartite agreement was signed in January 2020 by the Centre, the governments of Mizoram and Tripura, and representatives of Bru organisations.
- As part of the agreement, the Home Ministry has agreed to cover the entire cost of the settlement in Tripura.
- Every refugee family was guaranteed a bundle as part of the agreement:
For two years, a land, a Rs. 4 lakh fixed deposit, free ration, and a Rs. 5,000 monthly stipend
A further Rs. 1.5 lakh would be given to each family to help them build a home.
- Ethnic disputes have a long history in the northeast, not only between “indigenous” and “settlers,” but also among tribes, and issues could occur within smaller sub-groups within the same tribe.
- The plan to relocate the Bru Tribal People in Tripura may raise citizenship issues, particularly in Assam, where a procedure is underway to determine who is indigenous and who is not.
- The move on the Brus legitimises the settlement of foreigners under the Citizenship (Amendment) Act, causing tensions with indigenous peoples and communities who had already settled.
- Other communities in Tripura may lose space and revenue as a result of this.
- Furthermore, with the recent deadly battle on the Assam-Mizoram border, inter-state border disputes have received renewed attention.
The Way Ahead
- Given the current state of affairs in Brus, the state government should ensure that the quadrilateral agreement is followed to the letter.
- However, the same agreement that provides for Bru refugee resettlement in Tripura should be executed with the interests of non-Brus in mind, so that there is no tension between the Bru and non-Bru populations.