Lives and longings at India-Bangladesh borderland

By Anjuman Ara Begum,,

Guwahati: The Human Rights Watch has recently released an 81-page report on the situation on India-Bangladesh borderlands in West Bengal where both the countries have deployed border guards to prevent infiltration, trafficking, cross-border terrorism and smuggling etc. but the misuse of power by the security persons is rampant.

Numerous cases of indiscriminate use of force, arbitrary detention, torture, and killings by the security force, without adequate investigation or punishment have been reported in this region by civil society group like MASUM. Based on over 100 interviews with victims, witnesses, human rights defenders, journalists, and India’s Border Security Force (BSF) and Bangladesh Rifles’ (BDR) members, the HRW report portrays a pattern of grave abuses by BSF against both Bangladeshi and Indian nationals in the border area along India’s 2,000 km-long international frontier with Bangladesh in West Bengal state.

Indo-Bangladesh border near Mahendraganj, West Garo Hills, Meghalaya

The India-Bangladesh border extends to a total length of 4095 kms. Of this, West Bengal has a border length of 2216 kms, Tripura 856 kms, Meghalaya 443 kms, Mizoram 318 kms and Assam 262 kms. The border with Bangladesh is also fenced though in some places the fencing construction is yet to be completed.

Abuse of power in West Bengal

‘Several survivors and eyewitnesses of attacks allege that the BSF engaged in indiscriminate shooting without warning,’ says the HRW report. Let’s have a look at some specific cases in West Bengal.

Case 1:

The deceased person- Manjur Molla aged about 23, son of Mr. Jabbar Molla and husband of Ms. Ajimon Bibi (20 years) of village Uday Nagar, Atarpara, post office- Chilmari, Police Station- Daulatpur, District- Kusthia of Bangladesh. The deceased person- Dilwar Majhi, son of Mr. Hanif Majhi and husband of Ms. Amirjan Bibi (19 years), of village- Digreer Char, post office- Chilmari, Police Station- Daulatpur, District- Kusthia of Bangladesh.

Both of them belonged to lowest strata of socio-economic identities and with minors as dependents and compelled them to indulge in cross border smuggling of cattle as courier. The persons were involved with this illegal trade having nexus with posting guards of both sides of the border and politically influential ones.

(Source: Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha, (MASUM)

Case 2:

On the fateful day the villagers of Purbo Jaynagar heard four gunshots but as usual out of sheer fear of posted Border Security Force jawans, they did not come out of their houses. They not even were willing to share their experience. Next day on 24.08.2010 at about 4.00 am, the ‘C’ Company of 47 Battalion of Border Security Force from Purbo Joynagar informed Baduria police station about the incident. Mr. Ashok Kumar Mondal, SI (Sub-Inspector of police) of the Baduria police station rushed to the spot and found one body was lying. Mr. Mondal further narrated that the said BSF personnel told as ‘while he was in his routine duty on previous night, he saw 8-10 persons were engaged in cattle smuggling, while he asked them to stop, most of them fled from the scene but one of them attacked him with a large sharp weapon and in his self defense he fired and if he had not fired, he might have been killed by that person’. Mr. Mondal, SI, brought the body to Baduria police station after an inquest done by him at the place of incident. No doctor was called to examine the body. Mr. Mondal himself declared the body as “dead”. Then he initiated an Unnatural Death Case vide Baduria police station U/D (Unnatural Death)case no. 29/10 dated 24.08.10 and later registered a specific criminal case vide Baduria PS case number 232/10 dated 24.08.10, under sections 147/148/149/186/353/307 of Indian Penal Code against an unknown upon the complaint received from BSF. In this course he seized a sickle from the place of incident. According to Mr. Mondal, the bullet entered through right ribs and exited through right hand. On 24.08.10, Dr. Dipak Maity conducted Post Mortem Examination over the body at Basirhat Sub Divisional Hospital vide PM No.352. Till date none claimed the body and still the body is lying in Basirhat SD Hospital’s morgue.

(Source: Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha, (MASUM)

Stories from Meghalaya

Some stories of similar gravity have come from the West Garo Hills border in Meghalaya. The West Garo Hills district bordering Bangladesh is an area of 3714 Sq. Km. and population of 5,18,390 as per the census report of 2001. Though primarily tribal district, West Garo Hills has about 15% non-tribal population, mostly comprising Bengali speaking Hindus and Muslims.

Borderlanders shared several incidents of abuse of power in the border of Mahendraganj in West Garo Hills. Gumeljaan Bewa of Nandichar, Mahendraganj lost her lone earning member of her family, her son. ‘My son went to share a bidi with the boys working on the other side. How could he say no to them when they invited him to share a bidi? One day BSF arrested my son as he was crossing the border. He was taken to the camp and then brought near the fencing and was shot dead. What can we do? There are eyewitnesses but no one spoke due to fear. We were told that my son was trying to run away and was killed while stopping him. The local MLA gave Rs 1500 and asked me to keep silent.’

Arfina is only 15 years old now but she remembers her father being killed. ‘My father Mujhahar Ali, 32-34 years old [as he was], son of Lt Nabu Hussain and Lt Haliman was killed by the BSF 14 years ago. I was one year old then. My mother, Ameena could do nothing as she is illiterate and afraid of BSF. My father was a fisherman and daily wager. He went to the nearby shop on the fateful day. He was killed during an argument with the shopkeeper.’

The international India-Bangladesh border in Mahendraganj area is fenced and concrete fencing work completed this year. The fencing also caused loss of agricultural land and hence affected the income of the farmers to a large extent. It is also difficult for many borderlanders to work in their farming land that is situated outside the fencing wall and cultivate their land. Many have stopped cultivating their land altogether. Farmer Ayub Ali of Nandichar, West Garo Hills, said that he has shifted his residence twice and has stopped cultivating the farmlands that fall outside the fencing wall. ‘I lost good plot of land where I used to grow vegetables,’ he said.

Another farmer said: ‘Sometimes BSF allow us to go, sometimes not, depending on their mood. Sometimes they ask us to show our identity card. We don’t carry identity card all the time and this creates problem for us’.

Afaruddin Sheikh, 75 years old now, waiting for adequate compensation for his agricultural lands taken away by the 124 Bn.BSF long back

Inadequate compensation for the land taken away by the security forces to construct their camps is also reported. Afaruddin Sheikh is now 75 years old and he belongs to Tungrur Char, Mahendraganj, West Garo Hills, Meghalaya. He remembers, ‘My agricultural lands were taken by the 37 Bn. BSF (now 124 Bn.BSF) for the construction of Tungrurchar BOP but adequate compensation is still pending. Few years back they offered to give me some compensation but I declined to accept it as it was very less than the actual cost of the land. I am still waiting for justice as I lost my land, which has affected my income a lot’.

The border represents a regime of control and has affected people’s life tremendously. Poor access to the mainland world, remoteness and poor communication infrastructure deter borderlands in raising their voice for better life. The recent initiatives of opening of border haats in the borders of West Garo Hills are most welcome as this may solve some issues of livelihood and better trade facilities to some extent and bring prosperity to the borderlanders in the region.