The Report on BSF Atrocities
Channel 4 correspondent Jonathan Rugman made an excellent report on BSF atrocities against Indians and Bangladeshis living near the Indo-Bangladesh border. It started with Indian border fencing project, then moved to a potential Bangladeshi migrant family and their problems, interviewed a Bangladeshi village having scores of people killed by BSF. After that he moved to India and filmed in some Indian villages who lost a lot of people murdered by the same BSF.
Quotes from Jonathan Rugman’s personal blog –
“Some of those shot are undoubtedly Bangladeshi cattle rustlers. Bangladeshis need to import Indian cows because they doesn’t have enough cattle or grazing land of their own. … Yet the fence and the guards along it are making it deadly for cattle rustlers to bring their livestock across.”
“At a Bangladeshi morgue, Channel 4 News filmed stacks of death certificates of those killed by Indian soldiers. The doctors told us the bodies are always handed back to their families. But nobody has even heard of Indian soldiers being prosecuted for any crime.”
“… when you travel down the Indian side of the fence, you find that the Indians have killed even more of their own villagers than they have Bangladeshis. In the village of Baliasisha, local Hindus crowded round us in scenes the mirror image of Muslim villages in Bangladesh; mothers grieving over sons, men mourning their brothers, all shot by Indian patrols.”
“Some 65,000 Indians live in villages in the “no man’s land” beyond the fence. To get to these villages, they have to be fingerprinted by Indian soldiers in case any Bangladeshi tries sneaking back across. These Indians are nicknamed the “nowhere people”; if they try crossing the fence without permission, or break the nighttime curfew, they could be shot by their own troops.”
Now the billion dollar question remains – How to get rid of this situation?
One obvious answer you get in Indian media is that the fence should be shifted closer towards zero line – so that no Indian remains on the “other” side of it. Since the Indo-Bangladesh treaty of Friendship (treaty signed between Indira Gandhi and Sheikh Mujib) has expired in 1998, India can push for it. The supporters of this also shows “better record” of rival Indian and Pakistani forces in Indo-Pak border (or in US-Mexico border), where the fence is at the (or being moved to) zero line. In fact in some areas of West Bengal, the fence is being shifted to zero-line to put a check on “smugglers” (these smugglers are often local people who have to show their courage to earn their bread and butter). The projected advantage is obvious – people won’t be killed while crossing an invisible line – the Indo-Bangladesh border. Instead, they will have a physical fence acting as a warning. The other option is that of joint patrol of the border by BSF and BDR – to communicate well among themselves.
However, the above mentioned proposition fails to explain what to do with a BSF personnel kills some villagers intruding a village, neither does it explain how so many Indians, whom they are supposed to protect, get killed by them. If a fence is at zero-line, that doesn’t stop them to aim at a person on the other side of the fence, does it? Nor does it explain how accommodating BDR would increase security since BDR also has an equivalent bad record especially during their recent mutiny.
I want to see this incident as a part of bigger picture. With scores of human rights abuse reports pouring in from Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir, Darfur or Palestine – the fate of the civilians who live with an armed personnel beside them – is often linked to how that personnel behaves. For them, being suspected equals facing death penalty. The armed personnel, powered by a gun, often commits Human rights abuse not only because some sort of “immunity clause” protects him (the above video also shows an Indian NGO who told that they lodged many complaints against BSF but never the offender was punished), but also because they know that it would be difficult to prove anything against them.
It’s high time to remove all those “immunity clauses” those protect Armed forces being convicted in general courts. The BSF chief has recently committed that they need a zero-tolerance towards human rights abuse. (Ironically, in the same period, seven people were killed) I am skeptic till he delivers something.
The real solution to this problem is in tracking down why actually people cross the border. While I agree that punishments can reduce some atrocities, but it can’t stop the smugglers who cross the border with a bag of rice or onion to get often as low as Rs 10. To stop cross-border smuggling, a broader framework for improvement of border people is required. A lot of trade (for example the cattle) should be made legitimate in the context of border area while it could remain banned in other parts. Some biometric (fingerprints) cards could be used for participating in these cattle trades and can be arranged at many places near the border. The so-called smuggling can be countered with ease of movement of goods to and from either side of the border again exclusively for people living in border area.
How India manages these armed forces is going to determine how India is going to perform in human Rights. Armed forces, by definition, are the keepers of human rights. If they do the same they are supposed to protect, the civilians become helpless. In some way or the other, these civilians needs to have more rights than what they have right now. Without empowerment of common people, a solution seems impossible.