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Mizo NGOs protest Brus’ voting rights

Aizawl, March 24: Five major NGOs in Mizoram today took to the streets in protest against the Election Commission’s decision to allow Bru refugees to cast their votes through postal ballots from relief camps in North Tripura in the coming election to the state’s lone Lok Sabha seat.

The state’s most powerful organisation, Young Mizo Association, Mizoram Upa Pawl (senior citizens’ association), Mizo Hmeichhe Insuihkhawm Pawl (women’s organisation), and Mizo Zirlai Pawl and Mizo Students’ Union (two students’ organisations) in a joint resolution today vowed to continue their protest to draw the poll panel’s attention.

“We have sent a memorandum to the Election Commission on our opposition to allowing the Bru refugees to cast their votes from the relief camps which has fallen on the commission’s deaf ears. We will continue our protest to draw the poll panel’s attention,” Lalhmachhuana, president of Mizo Zirlai Pawl and member of coordination committee of the joint NGOs, said.

The NGOs have jointly demanded that all Bru refugees remaining in the relief camps be repatriated before the Lok Sabha elections and names of those refusing to return be deleted from the electoral roll. They also accused the Brus of leaving Mizoram at their own will (in 1997 and later in 2009) and making lame excuses for failing to return during several repatriation programmes organised by the Mizoram government.

The NGOs alleged that “the relief camps were breeding grounds for criminals indulging in a series of murders, abductions and extortion”.

Sharing the sentiments of civil society, chief minister Lal Thanhawla has also sent a petition to the poll panel to delete names of Bru refugees — who refuse to return to Mizoram — from the voter list before the Lok Sabha elections.

“It may be difficult to delete their names from the electoral roll as they are also Indian citizens. But the EC has found our plea to disallow casting of votes in relief camps considerable,” Lal Thanhawla has said, adding that this was a consensus of all political parties and NGOs in Mizoram.

On March 11, the Mizoram Bru Displaced People’s Forum sent a memorandum to the poll commission requesting it to set up polling booths in the relief camps to ensure that the refugees exercise their right to franchise as bona fide citizens of India.

The petition stated that failure to set up polling booths during 2003 Mizoram Assembly elections had caused a lot of problems for Bru voters. Women in particular were the worst sufferers as they had to walk a long way carrying babies to the only polling station at Kanhmun leh Tuipuibari in Mizoram .

“After polling booths were set up in the relief camps (since 2008 Assembly polls), poll turnout considerably increased with more than 80 per cent voters casting their votes,” the memorandum said.

The Brus accused the Mizo NGOs of attempting to deprive the Bru refugees of their rights.