By Tom Wright
A rare video of Indian border guards allegedly torturing a Bangladeshi man surfaced because the perpetrators of the crime made a cell-phone recording of the incident, which they later turned into CDs for distribution in an apparent effort to create fear among local people.
(WARNING: VIDEO CONTAINS NUDITY AND VIOLENCE)
The 11-minute video, obtained by Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha, or MASUM, a Kolkata-based non-governmental group, allegedly shows Border Security Force soldiers stripping a man naked before trussing him to a stick and beating him repeatedly.
The video surfaced on Jan. 18 and aired on Indian media, but many channels blurred the troubling images and questioned the video’s authenticity. Attention soon moved elsewhere. The episode has not attracted anything like the media frenzy that followed the slapping of prominent lawyer Prashant Bhusan in October and Indian Agriculture Minister Sharad Pawar in November, both of which were caught on video and aired repeatedly.
According to Kirity Roy, secretary of MASUM, the group which obtained the video, the incident was filmed on a cell phone by the alleged perpetrators of the attack, which occurred in Murshidabad district of West Bengal state, on the Bangladesh border, earlier in January.
One of the group then downloaded the video at an Internet café in the area and made CDs to distribute to local villagers “to show muscle power,” Mr. Roy said. One or MASUM’s local workers came into possession of a copy.
Vikas Chandra, a spokesman for the Border Security Force, said this also is his understanding of events. “This is what we have heard,” he said. “It’s an embarrassment for every one of us.” The BSF has suspended eight soldiers involved with the incident and is conducting an internal inquiry.
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Human rights groups say the video gives impetus to their claims of regular abuses by BSF soldiers along the porous Bangladesh border and the failure of India’s government to take punitive action.
New York-based Human Rights Watch, in a 2010 report titled “Trigger Happy,” said the BSF had killed 164 Indians and 347 Bangladeshis on the border since 2006.
On Tuesday, Human Rights Watch called for the Indian government to prosecute the men involved in the latest incident to send a message to others.
“These horrific images of torture on video show what rights groups have long documented: that India’s Border Security Force is out of control,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “The Indian government is well aware of killings and torture at the border, but has never prosecuted the troops responsible. This video provides a clear test case of whether the security forces are above the law in India.”
So far, India’s government has not shown any sign it plans to go to the courts over the incident.
The eight people the BSF has suspended are confined to “military lines” but are not in any detention facility, said Mr. Chandra, the BSF spokesman.
Ira Joshi, a spokeswoman for the Home Ministry, to which the BSF reports, said there were no plans to launch criminal proceedings.
The BSF has previously sentenced “one fellow” from the border force to detention for abuses committed on the Bangladesh border, Mr. Chandra said.
MASUM believes the BSF soldiers attacked the Bangladeshi man because he refused to pay bribe money to illegally bring cattle across the border, Mr. Roy said. (The man regularly crosses the border illegally with cattle and returned to Bangladesh after the incident, he added.) The cellphone video, which begins with men herding cows, was taken by a broker who arranges the bribe payments to the BSF, Mr. Roy claims.
Mr. Chandra denied this version of events. He said the BSF forces caught the man smuggling cattle and the resulting violence inflicted on him was “overstretching the limit of their mandated job.”