The following data talks about the situation of almost a decade–from January 2000 to November this year. In an average, at least two innocent Bangladeshi citizens are shot dead every week by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) along the Bangladesh-India border. According to a data prepared by human rights watchdog Odhikar, at least 900 guiltless Bangladeshi people were killed by the BSF during that period, while Bangladesh Rifles data alleges that the BSF has claimed no less than fifty one Bangladeshi lives alone in this year until now.
Odhikar says, the BSF gunned down 98 Bangladeshi nationals last year, while the death toll is 65 according to the BDR headquarters. On contrary to these shocking numbers, the BDR had not killed any Indian last year. The explanations of these extra-judicial killings are quite alike each time as most of them occur at night. BSF always claims that the ‘shooting’ was necessary to ensure India’s sovereignty. A BSF soldier, the only instance in the decade of kills, was sentenced by a court-martial, as he had shot a Bangladeshi in broad daylight.
The latest addition in the list of butchery was three more Bangladeshi nationals who died on the first week of November this year. A Bangladeshi cattle trader Shariful Islam, resident of Gangnia village in Shatkhira was shot dead on November 9 near Gazipur border point. Just on the day before, BSF critically beaten up Majnur Rahman, a resident of Shikrai village in Jessore with rifles.
In the previous incident, a Bangladeshi farmer–Shahidul Islam–was killed by bullets from BSF at Dhumtala border in Burimari upazila on November 2. “Most of the BSF personnel’s’ mentality is aggressive as if we are duck at gunpoint in broad daylight”, Manjurul Alam, a resident of Dahagram-Angorpota enclave in Lalmonirhat says this to reporters while visiting the India-Bangladesh border line.
“BSF treats us as though we are smugglers; they never consider us as general people. We are living here for seven generations on simple farming but happily. Regrettably enough, my house locates very close to the India border. If we want to go out at night or even at dawn, BSF shoots us intending to kill”, says Karim Mollah, a resident of Gangar Hat in Kurigram. The village Gangar Hat is very close to the India border like many other villages in Comilla. At Nageshweri in Kurigram, even the zero point pillar of India stands just by one’s cattle farm or kitchen.
Killing Bangladeshi civilians has now become a frequent happening for the Indian border guard, despite Director Generals (DG) and also DDGs and IGs of both the countries had met on a regular basis since the country’s birth. None of those meetings and sittings has brought any fruitful results for Bangladesh. Even a five-day DG-level high-up meeting that had started on September 23 this year in Dhaka could not bring any results.
The BSF boss, however, came up with a new story. “Almost half of the people die in the border area are Indians. We also have to give explanations to the Indian people”, BSF director general Shri Raman Srivastava told the media.
On a question about killing Bangladeshi nationals by BSF, Srivastava questioned to the media ‘What were India’s gains by killing a Bangladeshi? He deplored the deaths being termed as ‘murders’. Rather Srivantava pushed for calling those ‘deaths’ as the BSF claimed that it had not kill by targeting anyone intentionally.
“Actually Shri Raman Srivastava had not behaved like a professional. He was not the right person in the BSF-BDR meeting on border issue. How could he say that BSF had not shot any innocent Bangladeshi excepting criminals?”
“Furthermore, he (BSF DG) suggested us to impose curfew on the Bangladeshi border side during the night. Bangladesh government should give him pressure to say sorry to us’, says former BDR chief Major General (retd) ALM Fazlur Rahman.
‘We are concerned about the violation of human rights by the BSF. As human rights activists, we strictly deplore killings, torture and kidnaps by Indian border security and hope that the Bangladesh government will take necessary initiatives against this atrocity’, says Dr Saiful I Didar, general secretary of Bangladesh Human Rights Commission (BHRC).
In accordance to the Joint Indo-Bangladesh Guidelines of 1975 accord, if any citizen trespasses land of the other country, border forces can arrest and try them, or turn them to the other side following necessary communications. The border guidelines also describe that any existing defensive establishments within 150 yards of the borderline should be demolished.
‘Unfortunately enough, BSF is violating the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), violating the right to live and the right to liberty and freedom of movement as well’, says advocate Rabindra Ghosh, coordinator of Global Human Rights Commission (GHRC) Bangladesh unit.
‘Personally I do not think it is an act of bravery by BSF to kill innocent people, as a human being I have the right to survive with dignity as it is the major one among the other rights’, Diptiman Sen, president of all India enclave in Asam, tells Unseen over the phone.
‘If we act corresponding to a quote of Jobus Charnock, a founder of Kolkata, India will stop inhuman activities like border killings. The quote goes as ‘Maarle Thakor Na Marle Kokor’ (Strike and be honoured as God, be treated like a dog if you hit not), says Fazlur Rahman.
‘India always regards as a lower-status nation, they threat us like dog only because we show hospitality, and the consequence is that they consider us as weak. We have 16 crores people, of which, at least five crores are devoted. If we start fighting back, India will blench, which is proved in my term’, he adds.
ALM Fazlur Rahman points out two reasons behind the killings of Bangladeshi nationals. The main cause is that, BSF install those forces at the Bangladesh which had been deployed in Kargil, Kasmir and other Pakistan borders erstwhile.
The second reason is that these BSF soldiers are ignorant of the history of Bengal’s boundary as well as they are not familiar with the culture of the border side people of both India and Bangladesh.
Dr Imtiaz Ahmed, professor of international relations at Dhaka University, reveals another alarming characteristic. He says that, most of the BSF forces hold a ‘trigger-happy’ mentality.
Experts think that the number border killing mounted high after India’s initiatives to fence its border, which began in 1980 despite strong objections from Bangladesh, and was finally completed in1990.
Fearful of the border assassination, many residents of the border areas in Panchagar, Shatkhira, Lalmonirhat, Kurigram, Dinajpur, Sylhet and Jessore cannot go through their daily farming, agricultural works, cattle-grazing, harvesting and other daily chores.
Professor Imtiaz added that border side people of Bangladesh are not much aware about the borderline as the fencing by the India makes them confused. Bangladeshi people think that the fence of India is the actual borderline. Most of them are completely ignorant about the fact that the fence is built to mark the Indian Territory, leaving 150 yards at the front.
Imtiaz goes on saying, ‘Smuggling is one of the major motives behind border killings by BSF. Goods worth around 3.5 billion dollars are smuggled from India every year, while only 3 million dollars are legally traded from Bangladesh’.
According to the BDR headquarters, the Bangladeshi guards seized illegal goods worth taka 453 crores including a huge shipping of heroin only in the first 10 months this year.
‘We believe that there are ways to stop such killings if both Bangladesh and India’s governments really understand the importance and value of human life and if both parties are committed to respect peoples’ right to life. But, the real life experience of the human rights watchdogs, who are in touch of the families of the deceased people, is that the people living in these two territories do not get their dignity as a citizen or, at least, as a human being from their respective state authorities. The poor common people survive or die untimely without any visible protection mechanism from the governments, who are obligated, in accordance to their constitutions, to ensure right to life of every human being.
The failure to stop the continuing aggressive extrajudicial killings by the BSF raises question that whether the Indian authorities consider the lives of the Bangladeshi inhabitants, who live next to its frontline, are “cheesier” than anything else. It has now become obvious that the Government of India might not have much control over its border security force as the similar murders are recurring along the border despite persistent pledges had been made from its high-up to stop.
The current rulers of Bangladesh have shown fairly “friendliness” towards their Indian counterparts by agreeing to allow much-debated transit facilities through its land, and even going forward to execute the so-called “joint taskforce” to get hold of the “insurgents” in Bangladeshi Territories. However, it seems to have failed to table the murders by the BSF as the strongest agenda in return. Moreover, the Bangladesh Government itself backs extrajudicial killings like the so-called ‘crossfire’ or ‘shootout’ or ‘gun fight’ incidents by its law enforcement agencies as well as protects the perpetrators and even promotes them to lucrative positions. So, doubtlessly, the authorities inherently lack the commitment to ensure the right to life to its own citizens.
“It is already very late for the civil society of Bangladesh to create extensive pressures upon the governments of two countries. They can now begin boycotting Indian products in Bangladesh, as the initial step to pressurise the Indian Government, and force the Bangladesh Government to cancel its recently signed agreements on transit and other facilities as long as the BSF permanently stops killing Bangladeshis and Indian authorities take noticeable actions in this concern,” says Ashrafuzzaman Zaman, Programme Officer of Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC). AHRC is a Hong Kong-based human rights commission.
Professor Imtiaz believes that DG level BDR-BSF meetings regarding border killings would not bring much fruits unless India stops smuggling. The smugglers have high jacks in the administration. “At first, we need to stop smuggling by ensuring legal trades, and then we will have to create awareness among the residents alongside the India-Bangladesh border which is only possible by developing a sensible border area. Apart from these, India should position soldiers who have knowledge of the cross-border culture among the resident of India and Bangladesh.
“These killings started in last few years; we are robustly vocal about the killings of unarmed people. We also strongly expressed our apprehension in the last DG-level meeting and also have been protesting the issue through our foreign ministry’, BDR DG, major general Rafiqul Islam tells the Unseen.
We will now be looking forward towards the Human Rights Day on December 10 and see what rights the day brings for us. But border specialists believe that a prime minister-level talk between the two neighbouring countries solely on the killing issue are needed to put a stop to these gratuitous killings.
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