Monday, November 23, 2009

Attacks on Bru minorities in Mizoram

I. Press Release of Asian Centre for Human Rights (New Delhi), 20 November 2009

CBI investigation sought into the communal attacks on the Brus in Mizoram
- Congress is communal in Mizoram -

New Delhi: Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) today urged Home Minister P Chidambaram to order an investigation by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) into the killing of one Mizo youth identified as Mr Zarzokima on 13 November 2009 and subsequent burning down of villages inhabited by the Brus also known as the Reangs in Mizoram since 14 November 2009. More than 500 houses were reportedly burnt and over 5,000 Brus were displaced and forced to seek refuge in Tripura and Assam. “As prima-facie evidence do exist to establish beyond any reasonable doubt that the State government and the some Mizo NGOs were behind the premeditated attacks to prevent the return of the Brus from 14 November 2009 and all the major attacks against the minorities took place under Chief Ministership of Pu Lalthanhawla, an inquiry by the CBI is indispensable” – stated Mr Suhas Chakma, Director of Asian Centre for Human Rights.

ACHR further asserted that in Mizoram, the Congress Party leaders have not been able to rise above their ethnicity and pursued policies against the minorities. All the attacks against the minorities in the State i.e. on the Buddhist Chakma tribals at Marpara in August 1992, deletion of thousands of Chakma citizens from the voters list in Mizoram in 1995 in violation of the 1955 Citizenship Act and 1986 Citizenship Amendment Act and the communal attacks against the Brus in October 1997 took place under the Chief Ministership of Pu Lalthanhawla. No relief assistance, including establishment of relief camps, has been provided to these displaced persons who took shelter in Tripura since 14 November 2009.

ACHR also urged the Centre hold a tripartite meeting consisting of the State Government of Mizoram, Central government and Mizoram Bru Displaced Peoples Forum (MBDPF) to workout an agreement for return of the displaced Brus with guarantees for safety, security and proper rehabilitation and to send a clear message to the communal forces in Mizoram; arrest all the culprits and ensure their prosecution through speedy trial and provide assistance to the displaced.

II. Reply of Govt of Mizoram

Press Statement of Home Minister, Government of Mizoram in regard to the recent trouble between Mizos and Brus, 22 November 2009
[ Source: Department of Information and Public Relations, Govt of Mizoram]

It is deeply unfortunate that a highly regarded organization such as the Delhi-based Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR) has approached the Central Government with allegations that the Government of Mizoram was behind the recent communal trouble between the Mizos and the Brus. Before making such serious accusations, it would have been a wise move for ACHR to approach the Government of Mizoram to learn the facts and what steps the State Government took at the onset to prevent further violence from taking place.

I would like to make it clear here that when the State Government learned that 17-year old Zarzokima of Bungthuam village had been killed by alleged Bru militants calling themselves Bru National Army of the Bru Revolutionary Union on November 13, 2009, I made a statement to the effect that violence would be retaliated with violence, meaning the State Government would deal strongly with those threatening to disrupt the peace and harmony of Mizoram through violence.

The “prima-facie evidence” mentioned by ACHR to prove that the burning down of Bru villages were premeditated by the Government of Mizoram and “some Mizo NGOs” could stem from the accusations made by the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum that my statement was provocative. As a responsible public leader and a long-time Congress man, I wish to strongly state that my statement was neither provocative nor meant to instigate communal violence.

I would be the first to admit that the Western and North Western belt of Mizoram has been a simmering pot of communal problems from as far back as 10-15 years ago and that the problems between the Mizos and Brus could escalate at the drop of a hat. As such, when the State Government learned of the November 13, 2009 killing of a Mizo youth in western Mizoram, the district authorities were immediately alerted to take action to prevent any communal trouble from flaring up while at the same time to vigorously pursue investigations into the killing of the youth. Moreover, police forces were sent from various parts of the state to Mamit district, the district where the killing took place, as reinforcements. The difficult terrain and inaccessibility of some of the villages made it impossible for the police personnel to reach these places and prevent outbursts of violence. Police, however, managed to prevent miscreants from committing arson at Damparengpui, the biggest Bru village in the area, although, unfortunately, they were unable to save five houses. Had not the police reacted swiftly, Damparengpui could have been razed to the ground and we consider it immensely fortunate that no lives were lost and no one suffered physical injuries from the Bru community.

At this point in time, the State Government is yet to establish whether any NGO is involved in the torching of villages and investigations are still on. Meanwhile, seven persons, four from Kawrthah village, two from West Phaileng village and one from Suarhliap village were arrested on November 15, 2009 in connection with the burning down of villages.

It is the State Government’s belief that the killing of Zarzokima was an attempt by some people with self-interests from the Bru community to prevent the repatriation process which was to begin from November 16, 2009 from taking place. The State Government had taken great pains to see that the repatriation take place as early as possible despite the reluctance shown by the Bru refugee leaders to be repatriated. This reluctance is clearly highlighted by some of the demands the leaders made, demands that are impossible for the state government to meet such as allocating each refugee family four hectares of land.

I would like to assure ACHR that the Government of Mizoram is in no way involved in the torching of Bru villages and that relief measures and protection for the victims are in place and have been carried out. Immediate relief measures carried out was to distribute four kg of rice to each adult and 2 kg of rice to each child, two blankets per family and a silpouline for temporary shelter. The district administration has also been instructed to provide cooking utensils and other necessary household items such as daos (big knife for cutting down bamboos and small trees) necessary for the construction of huts. The State Government has also announced ex-gratia of Rs 10,000 for each victim-family which is to be distributed without undue delay.

I would like to take the opportunity here to give a brief history of the relationship between Mizos and the minority communities of Mizoram. Mizoram has three minority communities namely Gorkhas (Nepalis), Chakmas and Brus (also called Reangs). Mizos have co-existed peacefully with these minority communities for more than a hundred years despite attacks and violence from them towards the Mizos. As anyone will know, when something goes wrong between two communities, things tend to take a turn in a communal way. As such, when a Forest Deptt. Game Watcher Lalzawmliana was killed by Bru miscreants in 1997, the first communal trouble flared up between the Brus and Mizos leading to thousands of Brus fleeing Mizoram despite urgings from the Mizoram Government not to leave the State and assuring them protection. These are the same Brus which the Government of Mizoram is trying to repatriate, the process of which was to have begun on November 16, 2009 if the incident of the killing of the Bungthuam youth had not happened. It may also be correct to mention that some of the Bru leaders living in refugee camps have become ensconced comfortably in the camps given their status as leaders and as such, are showing reluctance to leave the refugee camps since they would face great hardship making a living through farming once they come back to Mizoram.

Given the circumstances as mentioned above, it is the Brus themselves that are now causing problems in the repatriation program and not the Government of Mizoram and the Mizo community as the ACHR would have us believe. Therefore, I strongly urge the media to downplay the recent Bru-Mizo incident so as to enable the Mizoram Government to repatriate the Brus without any further problems and as soon as possible.

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