At least one person was killed and nearly 23 were injured in North Tripura on Saturday when police opened fire at protesters, who had blocked the Assam-Agartala National Highway at Panisagar against the resettlement of Bru migrants from neighbouring Mizoram, police said.

According to the police, 46-year-old Srikanta Das died in police firing and others were injured when police personnel used baton charge to control a group of people protesting in support of an indefinite bandh, or shutdown, against rehabilitation of Bru refugees. Those injured include 15 police and fire service personnel, an official added.

Tripura’s additional director general of police, Rajiv Singh, said the police fired in self defence as the protesters became violent. “The National Highway was blocked since morning without permission. They didn’t move even when we tried to convince them. As they turned violent, we resorted to mild lathi charge. The protesters became uncontrollable and they tried to snatch weapons and in self-defence police fired,” he said.

In view of the violence, a huge contingent of security forces has been mobilised in affected parts of the state. The police has claimed that the situation is under control.

A magistrate-level probe has been ordered by the government into the incident. Later in the day, state law minister Ratan Lal Nath announced ₹ 5 lakh compensation to the family of the person who died in the protest.

On November 16, two local organisations — Nagarik Suraksha Mancha and Mizo Convention under the banner Joint Movement Committee — launched an indefinite strike at Kanchanpur in North district against the central government’s decision to rehabilitate around 35,000 tribal Bru refugees from Mizoram back to Tripura.

They demanded that the Bru migrants should get settlement in all the eight districts of the state to prevent their concentration in Kanchanpur sub division.

The law and order situation deteriorated on November 18, when the local administration imposed prohibitory orders after a water supply operator was allegedly assaulted by some local people. Soon, the protest spread to different parts of North district including Panisagar, Pecharthal and Kailasahar in Unakoti district.

Convener of JMC Sushanta Bikash Barua has, however, claimed that the police fired on the protesters who were agitating peacefully.

“Protesters were agitating peacefully. The police opened fire on them without any provocation. One died on the spot and many others were severely injured,” Baruah was quoted as saying by news agency PTI.

The Bru issue started in September 1997 following demands of a separate autonomous district council by carving out areas of western Mizoram adjoining Bangladesh and Tripura. About 30,000 Bru tribals had fled Mizoram due to the ethnic tension and took shelter in refugee camps in Tripura.

In January 2020, the Union home ministry signed an agreement with the governments of Tripura and Mizoram and the Bru migrants for their permanent settlement in Tripura. The Centre also announced a Rs. 600 crore package for their resettlement.

Anthony Debbarma, a social activist, said, “The resettlement of the Bru people was decided by the Centre. Whatever situation occurred today, it should not have happened. But we want to say the protesters who are against their resettlement might have forgotten that they themselves resettled here. We condemned such kinds of protests.”

According to an expert, the Bru resettlement process, as agreement was already signed, should happen without disturbing anyone’s interests. “The state government should have talked to the protesters beforehand, to come out with a solution. We could have avoided such kind of incident today,” the expert said on the condition of anonymity.

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