Protests over tribal refugees voting in Mizoram LS poll

Aizawl/Agartala, March 26: Five NGOs and youth organisations in Aizawl have launched protest rallies against the Election Commission’s decision to allow tribal refugees in Tripura’s relief camps to cast their votes through postal ballots for the lone Lok Sabha seat from Mizoram.

The protest, led by the Young Mizo Association (YMA), has seen rallies in Aizawl for the past three days demanding the poll panel to revoke its decision.

“We have sent a memorandum to the Election Commission conveying our protest… But it is yet to respond to it… We would continue our protest…,” said Lalhmachhuana, president of Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP) and member of the coordination committee of the five NGOs and youth bodies.

The MZP is one of the five NGOs and youth bodies and has continued their protest since Monday.

The NGOs also demanded that all refugees staying in the relief camps be sent back to their villages in Mizoram before the Lok Sabha election and those refusing to return, their names be deleted from the electoral roll of the state.

Lalhmachhuana told reporters Wednesday that the tribal refugees left Mizoram at their own will (in 1997 and later in 2009) and showed inaccurate reasons for not returning despite several repatriation programmes by the Mizoram government.

Mizoram Chief Minister Lal Thanhawla had also earlier this month urged Chief Election Commissioner V.S. Sampath to not allow the tribal refugees, living in seven relief camps, to exercise their franchise in deciding the fate of the state’s lone Lok Sabha seat through postal ballot.

Meanwhile, Tripura Chief Electoral Officer (CEO) Asutosh Jindal told reporters in Agartala: “Like on previous occasions, the CEC has decided to take the votes of the refugees in the relief camps in north Tripura through postal ballots.”

“At least one facilitation centre would be set up in each of the seven refugee camps in north Tripura during the first week of April so that the eligible refugees could cast their votes for the Mizoram Lok Sabha poll,” he said.

Earlier this month, the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum (MBDPF), an organisation of the tribal refugees, all Reang tribes, asked the Election Commission to conduct elections in the relief camps.

The MBDPF had complained to the poll panel that there were many eligible voters in the camps who were not included in the voters’ lists of Mizoram.

Of the over 36,000 Reang tribal refugees, locally known as “Bru”, living in the refugee camps in Kanchanpur and Panisagar in Tripura since 1997, only around 11,500 were listed in Mizoram’s electoral rolls. They were listed from 10 of the 40 assembly constituencies in western Mizoram.

The tribals fled after ethnic clashes with the majority Mizos over the killing of a Mizo forest official. Many have since refused to return home from the camps in Tripura unless their security is guaranteed.

IANS