Translated by Snehamoy Roy Chowdhury
The Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) of 2019 has reopened the wounds of the indigenous people of Tripura who call themselves the Borok. Essentially, the CAA allows migrants who had entered India by 31 December 2014, and who belong to Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism, Jainism, and Christianity, to gain Indian citizenship.
For Tripura, the new act is likely to lead to disastrous outcomes as the state has already been reeling under unchecked immigration from neighbouring Bangladesh. Due to the steady influx of refugees and migrants, the state has witnessed a population explosion and an increase in poverty and unemployment among the indigenous population.
Speaking to indianexpress.com, Movement for Kokborok general secretary Binoy Debbarma said they have announced to cancel 2019’s state-level Tring festival as a sign of protest against the CAA. Image credit: Indian Express
The first wave of immigration started in 1947 when the Partition forced Hindus from Bangladesh (then East Pakistan) to flee to the safety of India. Considering that Tripura shares its international boundaries with Bangladesh on three sides, it was easily accessible to the refugees. Subsequent waves of immigration post Independence led to a 78% rise in Tripura’s population between 1951 to 1961 as can be confirmed by census reports.
The 1971 war between India and Pakistan once again led to a boom in immigration. According to news reports such as this, the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had welcomed refugees to India with the hopes that they will return to Bangladesh once peace is re-established. However this did not happen and the refugees settled in India permanently, primarily in the states of Assam and Tripura.
One of the major shocks of the demographic change was felt in 1980 when a riot broke out between the Bangladeshi migrants and the indigenous tribal communities. Many people lost their lives in this bloodbath and several indigenous villages were torched.
Yet, migration continues till today as Bangladeshis keep filtering in through the porous borders. With such unchecked infiltration, the indigenous people of Tripura are on the verge of getting wiped out altogether. The pillars of Tripura’s governance such as politics, economy, and bureaucracy are mostly presided over by the migrant population.
As such, indigenous people feel that their voices are not heard in their own state. Many Borok groups have now gathered together to demand ‘Tipraland’ for the indigenous people so they can safeguard their identity. They visualise a land cut out from the existing state where only Borok people shall be allowed to settle and govern.
IPFT (Indigenous People Front of Tripura) and other tribal wings are on a road and rail blockade movement programme on the demand of a separate state, ‘TIPRALAND” in the outskirts of Agartala, Capital of the Northeastern state of Tripura. Express Photo by Abhisek Saha.
Following the CAA, the Boroks held demonstrations at many places in Tripura to place their demands for TipraLand. It is noteworthy that the TSR and CRPF personnel fired at the protesters at Dasaram Madhab-bari to disperse the protest. Not only that, after the incident of shooting, the statue of Maharaja Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya Bahadur, a much-respected figure among the Boroks, was damaged by some miscreants.
If this state of affairs does not improve the indigenous people of Tripura will continue to be alienated and their existence threatened. The Boroks require more representation in the governance and proper access to education and employment. So, before it is too late, they should be protected. This means that the borders should be sealed properly and illegal immigration should be curtailed at any cost.
This article is created as a part of the Adivasi Awaaz project, with the support of Misereor and Prayog Samaj Sevi Sanstha.
This article was first published in Youth Ki Awaaz