The killing of innocent Bangladeshis at the hands of Indian Border Security Force (BSF) is an issue that brings shock, dismay and humiliation to us as a nation. There had been numerous talks and assurances of “zero deaths” but to no avail. Recently, this has been discussed at the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs indicating the government’s concern in this regard. Various national and international human rights forums and organisations also voiced their disquiet at the continuity of deaths at the Bangladesh-India border.
Perhaps there is no other border as deadly during peacetime as the India-Bangladesh border. From 1972 onwards, the annual figures for border killing have been in double digits. This year, already 29 people were killed in the first seven months, according to a September 11 report of this daily citing data from the rights organisation Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK). In most cases of border killing, people were shot without any justification. They were innocent civilians carrying no weapons, thereby posing no threat to security.
This is happening because of BSF’s shoot-on-sight policy. The BSF, of course, claims that they only shoot at those who are criminals and those who attack them. But there has been no reported instance where BSF guards were fired upon or victims were carrying any firearm.
It is pertinent to recall the incident of the Felani murder, one of the most shocking cases where this young girl was killed by BSF on January 7, 2011. The grisly picture of her lifeless body hanging on the border fence was picked up by the international media provoking widespread criticism. Ultimately, the killer was acquitted for lack of “sufficient and conclusive evidence”. But Felani’s memory remains etched in our minds as a symbol of BSF brutality.
It’s not just killing, however. There are instances of torture of all kinds including uprooting nails, pouring in petrol, merciless beating and unlawful detention. How can we continue to digest this inhuman behaviour meted out to our fellow citizens?
The Indian public and decision makers must be convinced that it is not only Bangladesh that is dependent on India, rather India too relies on Bangladesh for a host of vital socio-economic exchanges. Bangladesh is India’s fourth highest remittance earning source. There are more than two million Indians who work in Bangladesh, documented or undocumented. Hence, the onus of maintaining a cordial relationship is on both sides.
In our efforts to make the bond stronger at the borders, we have introduced border huts. There had been a ceremony called Rakhi Bandhan where female BSF members were seen tying rakhi (amulets) around the arms of our Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) members. What a celebration of love and trust! After all these, why would BSF still kill our people?
In view of the reality, we would like to propose the following for consideration at the ongoing DG-level border conference between BGB and BSF at Pilkhana:
A one-minute silence may be observed for all those who were killed at the border by BSF. It may be a little hard for them to accept. Hence, the approach can be modified to be agreeable to both sides. It could be “a one-minute silence to honour all citizens killed on either side of the border including BGB and BSF jawans”.
A short documentary showing the sufferings of the family members of those killed, with the background information of the innocent deceased victims, may also be presented.
A joint pledge by BGB and BSF that no force will kill innocent people unless attacked may be solemnised.
At the home front, BGB must undertake an elaborate programme to educate our people living along the border. This could be done through national TV, social media, text messages through mobile phone, publishing leaflets and posters, and addressing people in the market places as well as social and religious gatherings. This could be done through documentaries depicting the hazard of crossing border and making people aware of the capability of BSF in watch keeping. People must be given a clear idea of the tremendous wherewithal and resources of BSF in identifying movements by IR, sonar and other gadgets. They must know that if they try to sneak in thinking they can do it undetected, they will do so at their own peril as they will be caught and overpowered and only their bullet-riddled bodies will return home.
Despite the concern over border killings, Pilkhana must put up a befitting show of cordial hospitality to our honoured guests. It may be difficult to match the traditional extravaganza of Indian hospitality in all its pomp and show. But I am sure Pilkhana will wear a very festive look with the lawns properly mowed, gardens trimmed, buildings painted, red carpets laid out and chandeliers lit. BGB officials will hopefully tie up all loose ends in preparing for the series of meetings, agenda, upkeep of banquet halls, menu for the ostensive parties, gift exchange and so on. Above everything, we want Pilkhana bugles to resonate the sombre tune of the cry of our fallen citizens who have been robbed of their right to life for no justifiable reasons.
Brig. Gen. Qazi Abidus Samad, ndc, psc (Retd) is a freelance contributor.