BSF at Indo-Bangla border
Zero Commitment To Zero Killings
The killings continue and the border between Bangladesh and India remains stained with the blood of innocent and unarmed citizens. The trigger-happy Border Security Force of India has not let up it fire against Bangladesh nationals and hardly a day passes without a fresh tragedy for families this side of the border.
One of the claims BSF likes to make is that they try to rein in illegal cattle smugglers, among other things. Ironically, BSF officers themselves are involved in amassing a good amount of rupees through such unlawful business. The facts are out there for all to see.
Very recently an official of BSF, with three other Indian traders, was found involved in smuggling cattle along the Bangladesh-India border.
Former commandant of BSF 36 Battalion Satish Kumar, along with his associates, was caught by the law enforcement in India. A case has been filed against him and three others on 21 September with the Kolkata anti-corruption department.
Satish Kumar, former in-charge of Maldah and Murshidabad BSF, was identified by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI)of India. CBI began an investigation of cattle smuggling in 2018.
This is not the first time that a BSF commandant has been found involved in illegal dealings at the border. Commandant Matthew was detained in January 2018 for taking a bribe of Rs 4.5 million for similar underhand deals.
Other than cattle smuggling, there is human trafficking, drug dealing and other dubious means that make brisk business for such disreputable BSF men. But the blame invariably falls in the Bangladeshis. And the killings keep them silent. A dead man tells no tales.
Ironically, the killing continues even while flag talks take place between BSF and the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB). On one hand there are handshakes and commitments against killing, and on the other hand, the bodies of Bangladeshis pile up.
On 16 September afternoon, a BSF delegation entered Bangladesh through the border at Akhaura, Brahmanbaria to attend a four-day border conference. As they crossed the border, the dead body of a Bangladeshi national killed by BSF lay at the border in Dinajpur, reports a leading daily of Bangladesh.
According to the report, the decomposing body was of a young Bangladeshi man, Jahangir Alam. His body had been lying 500 yards from the Bangladesh border in Indian territory. The body was brought back to the side of Bangladesh on the afternoon of the BSF-BGB flag meeting. Jahangir’s family says he was killed by the BSF.
This is shocking, at the same time not shocking at all. In just under the first nine months of this year, around 40 Bangladeshis have been killed along the border.
Human rights organisation, Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK), says 32 of these people were shot dead by members of BSF. Another five died were tortured to death by BSF. The cause of death of the remaining two could not be identified as yet as their bodies were in a state of decomposition.
According to ASK records, in January-September of last year, 28 Bangladeshis were killed in BSF fire or torture. These figures are based on reports appearing in the national dailies.
In March this year, with the outbreak of coronavirus, no killings took place on the border. But that was just a brief lull. In April, BSF shot 3 Bangladeshis dead. In May they killed 1. In Junethe causalities were 7. In July it was 3, in August it was 5 and in September it has been 4 so far.
All these killings have been happening despite India’s commitment to bring down border killings to zero. “The killings have not been brought down to zero, their commitment is zero,” says human rights activist Sajal Ahmed, presently doing his doctorate on South Asian human rights issues in the US. “They had committed to do away with lethal weapons, but there is no sign of them following up on that decision.”
Meanwhile, a border conference at the director-general level began on 17 September in Bangladesh, between BGB and BSF. A 13-member Bangladesh delegation led by the DG, BGB Maj Gen Md Safinul Islam and a 6-member Indian delegation led by DG, BSF Rakesh Asthana, took part in the meeting.
BGB’s position, said an officer of the border force while speaking to the media, is “don’t kill, don’t shoot.”
Killings continue unabated
According to Ain O Salish Kendra, from 2009 till date, 522 Bangladeshi nationals were killed on the border with India. And 324 of them were shot dead by BSF. Also, 159 were tortured and killed by members of BSF. The killings began to increase further in 2019. This continues unabated.
Four killed in September so far
Four Bangladeshi nationals have been killed in September so far by BSF at the border.
Human rights activists see the main reason behind the continuous killing is impunity. The BSF members who carry out the killing face no action. The tragic and iconic case of Felani is an example. Even human rights groups in India fought for justice when this injustice prevailed.
Any claims by the BSF that they shoot in self-defence, is not plausible. These victims were all unarmed, innocent villagers. If they were trespassing, even smuggling, surely there are laws to deal with crime. No one has the right to kill these unarmed nationals of Bangladesh.
In recent times, worried that it is losing the subservience of its neighbours, India has been making overtures to ‘mend fences’. It is time that they take this issue seriously. Killing will not create coercion. It will breed animosity.
Unless India keeps its commitment to abstain from using lethal weapons on the border and bring the killings down to zero, the distance growing between the two countries will widen even further. India will really find itself friendless in a hostile neighbourhood.