An obscure colony in the remote South Narayanpura village near India-Bangladesh border is the new address of 39-year-old Minati Das, who along with her family was forced to flee home during the three-decade-long insurgency in Tripura.
An obscure colony in the remote South Narayanpura village near India-Bangladesh border is the new address of 39-year-old Minati Das, who along with her family was forced to flee home during the three-decade-long insurgency in Tripura. Das, along with thousands other displaced families in West Tripura, had since been living in makeshift slums, working as maids and daily wagers to make ends meet. In a relief that came after thirty years, the BJP-led state government recently handed over land pattas (deeds) to 235 families in West Tripura and Sipahijala districts. Of them, 55 families have received their deeds earlier this month for settlement at South Narayanpur village.
“This is my shelter now. I am happy with 1296 sq ft area allotted by the government. At least, I have a place to stay,” Das said. Tripura witnessed its worst ethnic riot between the tribal and the non-tribal communities in the 1980s, killing over 6000 people. Sajal Poddar, the secretary of ‘Paschim zila and Sipahijaala Udbastu Unnayan Committee’ (organisation for the wellbeing of the homeless), however, claimed that only a small percentage of the total number of families displaced during the insurgency and ethnic riots has received the pattas. The committee that had been fighting for the rights of the homeless people over the past 18 years demanded a plot and Rs 5 lakh for every family.
“Back then, Sipahijala was a part of West Tripura district. Of the 6,500 families displaced from the district during insurgency, only 202 have received pattas in West Tripura and 35 in Sipahijala,” he said. State Education Minister Ratan Lal Nath, too, agreed that the armed insurgency had rendered thousands of families homeless. “During my speech in the Assembly as the leader of the opposition in 2006, I had presented a statement which clearly specified that around 3 lakh people from 60,000 families across the state had to flee homes due to the insurgency,” he asserted.
After the situation settled down, the families could not return homes as the local indigenous people had taken over their land and property, ruling BJP Vice-President Subal Bhowmick said. For Rabin Banik, 33, who fled his home at the age of 13 from Jampuijala village in Sipahijala district, the 1296 sq ft land allotted to him in South Narayanpura, enough to build just one room, a makeshift kitchen and a toilet, has come as big relief. “I would not like to compare my new home with the old one anymore. After fleeing my village we lived on pavements and dirty slums at Mullapara in West Tripura for years. This is a big relief for my family,” Rabin, who works as a daily wager, said.
The memories of ethnic tension still haunt some of the displaced people, who do not wish to return to their village any longer. Rajesh Das, who also hailed from Jampuijala village, once considered as the hub for vegetable cultivation, feels visiting his village might lead to more trouble. “No one is interested in going back. Who knows, going back may spark off another ethnic tension there. We want to settle down peacefully on the land provided to us by the government,” he said. The new inhabitants of South Narayanpura village, however, complained that the area lacks electricity and drinking water supply. “We manage to set up a hand pump at the village as the nearest water supply point is one kilometre away from this village,” said Rajesh Das.
One of the villagers said on the condition of anonymity that the people in the colony use hook lines from a high tension power line to electrify homes. “Local BJP MLA Dilip Das visited our colony a month ago and promised to arrange for water supply and power,” he said. BJP vice-president Subal Bhowmik, when asked about the living conditions of the colonies, said his party will take steps to ensure proper rehabilitation. “We have launched many movements in the past (during Left rule) for the rehabilitation of the homeless. We are trying to provide them amenities so that they can lead a normal life,” Bhowmik added.
Veteran CPI(M) leader and former deputy speaker Pabitra Kar said the erstwhile Left Front government had always been sympathetic to the problems faced by the displaced people. “Our government had allotted lands to several families at Sipahijala and West Tripura. We had also planned a scheme to rehabilitate the displaced members, but that scheme could not be implemented as the Election Commission had announced assembly polls for February,” he added. The BJP-IPFT combine government came to power in March 9, ending the 25-year of CPI(M)-led Left Front rule in Tripura.