Complacence in govt over killings by BSF

Probir Bidhan

Probir Bidhan

The home minister in parliament on June 27 claimed that positive result was visible following assurances by the Indian government that they were taking all necessary measures to stop border killings as she went on with the statistics of a decline trend. But unfortunately, despite such assurances for the last few years, murders and torture of Bangladeshis along borders have not stopped.

The minister was also in self-complacency that her government had protested the murders in flag meetings and also in the top-level dialogues between the governments of BSF Logothe two ‘independent’ neighbouring nations. Shahara Khatun citing government statistics said 151 Bangladeshis were killed by BSF since 2009 and 11 until date in 2012.

The figures, however, do not match with those prepared by the human rights organisations on media reports. It’s a common tendency as we see the government agencies usually try to downgrade death tolls in any accident, natural calamity or extrajudicial killings since it may raise question about the government’s credibility. Human rights group Odhikar said 13 people were killed by BSF since January this year, according to a June 13 report ran by The Daily Star.

India’s Border Security Force killed 31 Bangladeshi nationals last year when the killing of 15-year-old Felani was a much-talked-about incident. The number was 74 in 2010 and 98 in 2009, hence putting the number to more than 200 since the Awami League-led government assumed power. According to rights group Ain O Salish Kendra, 39 Bangladeshi were killed by the BSF in 2011 alone, while 30 more Bangladeshis were abducted and 64 injured in the border region during the same period.

Following outcry of the local and international rights groups, the Indian authorities, probably for the first time in history, sentenced eight BSF personnel though only to 89-day in jail. It happened only because that the video footage torture on a Bangladeshi cattle smuggler by those BSF members was aired by Indian TV channels, firstly NDTV in early February. The victim said BSF men in uniform tortured him undressed on December 9 last year as he refused to pay them a bribe. We have not forgotten the brutality on the 15-year-old Felani in January 7 last year. It is also not heard that any family of the victims was provided with compensation. Critics say in no other country people are killed in so large number as it is along India-Bangladesh border that stretches over 4,100 kilometres. These are undoubtedly ‘extrajudicial killings’ and ‘violation of international laws’. Interestingly, the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) never heard to have faced protests for killing Indian nationals along the border.

Protests seem work, as we see the frequency of gunning down Bangladeshis has reduced, but on the other hand, alarmingly, incidents of abduction, torture and hurling explosives — grenade and cocktail — on people have increased. Meanwhile, the ‘undisclosed’ contents, disagreements and outcomes of the flag meetings between the officials of two parallel border outposts where the killings take place create ambiguity among people and the media. Moreover, a similar thing happen when Dhaka-Delhi’s DG-, secretary- or minister-level discussions take place covering a wide range of issues concerning both the countries – historically friendly nations since long – especially during the Awami League governments.

Against Bangladesh government’s co-called protests, the BSF side replies in the same manner; it sometimes apologises, but sometimes also defends saying that they have to shoot for self-defence. And following this, the communication stops, kept silent until another death is ‘reported in media’. As part of her move to improve relation and cooperation with different countries, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in January 2010 visited Delhi and extended her hand towards India. The two governments agreed upon over four dozens of proposals which, critics say, served the interests of the bigger and stronger country much than that of Bangladesh. The criticisms are not baseless, when we see abrupt killing of Bangladeshis, commonly branded as smugglers by both the governments, along the borders; hurried activities to allow transit facilities to India; eye-wash protests against the proposed Tipaimukh project and at the same time, agreeing on taking benefits from the hydro-power project; and delay in securing the water of common rivers, notably of much-cherished Teesta.

The issues mentioned have been very crucial for Bangladesh.

Her Indian counterpart visited Dhaka almost a year back and removed obstacles in many routes of mutual benefits, except for the Teesta water sharing and transit. Even though the Awami League government has been an old friend of India’s incumbent Congress-led government, it has been unable to secure much of the pledged assurances made by the Indian side. To avail the benefits, Bangladesh could so far satisfy India in curbing the fear of militants of its north-eastern region where they had been operational from the Bangladesh territory. In several occasions, Indian high officials have appreciated Hasina’s government for cracking down on the militant camps.

But, what about the smugglers of drugs, arms, fuel, fertiliser, sugar, cloth, motorcycle and especially Indian cattle? Who will stop them? Or will they ever be obstructed or stopped doing the illegal trade, which is absolutely much higher than the authentic trade between the countries? Probably, no. Because it brings a good amount of illegal money quickly into the pockets of influential people involved in smuggling, both the border frontiers, apparently, allow these unofficially-authorised businesses, certainly in exchange of bribes. Or else, they are usually shot dead, or injured, or tortured badly by the BSF, and commonly detained by the BGB.

To solve these ‘fabricated problems’ of illegal border trade and killings by BSF, the governments regularly meet and discuss in tea tables to find ways, expressed to be quit impossible by the officials. Let’s find some straightforward solutions to this problem, which the bureaucrats may find irrational and unprofessional: legalise cattle import since our demand for beef increasing gradually; cut tax and duty of all types of products at the border ports; allow small smugglers carrying products against minimum charges and through official receipts; legalise smuggling of Indian alcohol, phensidyle, heroin, cannabis and Yaba into Bangladesh territory; and ensuring improved lifestyle of people living along border areas.

And if Bangladesh government wants to be strict against the current trend, though possibility is bleak, then it should increase salaries and benefits of the BGB jawans and officers, tighten security, ban and stop smuggling of Indian cattle and drugs. Bangladesh can also start shooting Indian smugglers haphazardly and defending by saying of “self-defence” as said by the BSF chief, who claimed early this year that shooting along the border could not be stopped totally. But whatever the reality is, it seems that Bangladesh government is in complacence that they could made the Indian side pledge a lot of good deeds like increasing patrol, joint drives against smugglers and militants, improved communication between the two frontiers and BSF using ‘rubber bullets’ instead of ‘lethal weapons’.

What a shame! We could not compel them to arrest but shooting on Bangladeshis in line with international border laws. It is also a shame for the incumbent government as it does not care much in saving the lives of its nationals who are being killed by a law enforcing agency of a different country without a trial.

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