“What if one day we are forced to flee our home and be displaced from our homeland? The very thought leaves us rattled and disturbed…
…Rastati was forced to live one such heartbreaking truth; hers is a tale of uprooting and a moving journey of homecoming.”
The very thought of our homeland grips us with myriad feelings. There awaits a place which we embrace as our ‘Home’, bricks and mortar that comes alive with the joy of being with our loved ones. Home is a place filled with stories of bliss and discord, aroma of home cooked food and a refuge from all worries of the world. It is a place where we feel secure, a place where we live ourselves, and where we belong the most irrespective of the many different shores that life takes us to.
As much as our home is to our being, similarly crucial is our homeland to our existence. Our habitat, way of life, cultural practices, camaraderie and acquaintances, yesteryear memories, traditions which we carefully preserve as legacies for the future and the very many such intricate feelings and practices bind us forever to our homeland.
But… What if one day we are forced to flee our home and be displaced from our homeland? The very thought leaves us rattled and disturbed.
Rastati was forced to live one such heartbreaking truth; hers is a tale of uprooting and a moving journey of homecoming.
Rastati and her husband Kornojoy were living a happy conjugal life in West Bunghmun village in Mizoram. Like most of their fellow villagers, they also practiced shifting cultivation and it was a sustainable livelihood practice for them. Rastati’s only daughter was married to a faraway village called Suarhliap. She had eight Grand Children and fifteen Great Grand Children.
Life was passing by peacefully for Rastati in her ancestral village until the ethnic conflict that broke out between two communities in 1997 changed the scape of her life. The Bru community was displaced from Mizoram following the ethnic conflict in 1997 and there was massive destruction of life and livelihood.
Rastati’s home and land were also ravaged during the conflict. In a bid to save their lives, she, her husband, daughter, son in law, grandchildren and all other family members fled to the nearby state Tripura and took shelter in the Ashapara camp.
She was uprooted, a choice thrust upon her.
Life in the camp was very difficult, large families stayed together in one small bamboo hut. School was based in a remote area which made it very difficult for the little children to tread the hilly terrain and pursue their education. There were no hospitals available in the vicinity and doctors would visit the camps once in several months. This led to rampant deaths due to fever, malaria, gastroenteritis and other diseases, the children in the camps were also malnourished. Basic amenities such as electricity and water were not available and the women and children in the camps needed to travel several kilometres to fetch water.
There was no livelihood support for the residents and the members from each family earned money by doing odd menial jobs in the nearby villages and town. Economic hardships also forced many children and youth to drop out of school and become an extra earning hand for their family.
Even amidst all these hardships the only source of inspiration for Rastati and her family was their desire to return to their home land Mizoram. But fate struck another hard blow when Rastati’s husband passed away due to dysentery. The death of Kornojoy left a deep void within Rastati, however looking at her extended family; she gathered the courage to pull herself and face the ordeal of life. Her days comprised of tending to the household chores and caring for her great grand children while her grand children would be away to the nearby villages and cities in search for livelihood to meet the families need.
The plight of the Rastati and her Bru community led to efforts for repatriation in Mizoram and Tripura. IGSSS along with several like minded partners and institutions advocated and lobbied for legislative reforms, repatriation and networking with the District Administration in affected areas of Tripura and Mizoram. For the past three years, the IGSSS programme in collaboration with Jana Unnayan Samiti, Tripura focused on repatriation. The advocacy efforts bore significant results, leading to the resumption of repatriation of Bru refugees from relief camps from North Tripura to Mizoram. The repatriation process is supported by both the Mizoram and Tripura Governments.
Finally after 16 years of staying in the camp, braving through all oddities and challenging situations, 86 year old Rastati along with her family members were repatriated to their homeland – Mizoram. They now hope to start life with renewed dreams and vigour.
IGSSS is also working in close coordination with Government in repatriated villages of Mizoram and relief camps in Tripura. Besides continuously reviewing the repatriation and resettlement process in Mizoram, IGSSS is supporting the resettled families towards improving their food security and providing Water – Sanitation (WATSAN) and Psycho-Social care.
This intervention is supported by European Commission for Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection (ECHO) and Dan Church Aid (DCA).
Through conditional cash support amounting Rs.4,000, IGSSS has till now supported 858 families repatriated after 2010 from Tripura. Rastati’s family and other newly repatriated families are part of conditional cash transfer that will enable the women members to start Income-generating activities.
Story by: Netaji Basumatary and Lalrinmawii Hauhhar
Edited by: Sohini Bhattacharjee