Indian–Bangladeshi Border Conflict (2001) Revisited
For long I was waiting to decipher the allegations and counter-allegations posted in Indian and Bangladesh press and blogs regarding 2001 border battle between India and Bangladesh. I was clarified by a book I came across recently. The author, Willem van Schendel, a Dutch Professor, actually visited India-Bangladesh border and surveyed the area thoroughly. He also wrote a few more books on border areas, especially on India-Bangladesh-Myanmar border area.
He covers the topic in a couple of his books. I read the incident from one of his books available in the Internet – the book named “The Wagah Syndrome” highlights the violent nature of borderlands in South Asia. Here’s a page from his book –
“There are, of course, two official versions of the story—one Indian and one Bangladeshi—and it is difficult to disentangle truth from rumor and propaganda. Even the name of the hamlet is in dispute: authorities in Bangladesh refer to it as Padua, Indians as Pyrdiwah. Let me give you a brief outline. The ownership of this part or the border landscape has probably been disputed from 1947. Bangladesh certainly claims that it was part or the territory of Pakistan which Bangladesh inherited after the war of 1971). Whether India also laid claim to Padua before 1971 is not clear. The plot of this story began to thicken in 1971, when Bangladesh guerrilla fighters operating against the Pakistan army established a training camp in Padua. These fighters left in December 1971, when the war had been won. Their camp was taken over by Indian border guards who had been supporting and training the guerrilla fighters from the beginning or the war. The Indian guards did not leave Padua but turned the now deserted camp into a regular border outpost. In this way, according to Bangladesh, 95 hectares of Bangladeshi territory came to be held in ‘adverse possession’ by India. This fact was virtually unknown except to locals for almost 30 years.
Things came to a head when in April 2001 a group of Bangladeshi border guards, partly in response to Indian road-building activities nearby) but apparently without the backing of their government entered the hamlet and encircled the Indian border outpost. The action did not result in casualties but the villagers had to flee, leaving the beleaguered Indian border guards behind. The event enraged the Indian authorities and Indian media widely reported it as an ‘invasion.’
A few days later, Indian border guards retaliated. As their’ entry point they chose Boroibari, more than 100 km to the west of Padua/Pyrdiwah: Boroibari’s Radcliffian history is somewhat better known. It has been disputed since 1947 and the border here remained undemarcated after joint survey parties quarreled over its location in the early 1950s. Throughout, Pakistan/Bangladesh occupied the territory, so from the Indian point of view it has been in ‘adverse possession’ since 1947.
The Indian border guards’ plan was to occupy a Bangladeshi border outpost and to hold it, both to even the score and as a security for the return or the Padua-Pyrdiwah camp and its men. Their plan turned out to be disastrously miscalculated. In a violent confrontation 16 Indian border guards died and 2 were injured. The attack also left three Bangladeshi border guards ahead and 5 injured. About 10.000 civilians fled the area after some 24 were wounded in the shooting.”
There are a few points to notice in his description.
1. Despite repeated portrayal of “Our” and “Their” land and a well-defined border by the press of two countries, the borders are actually disputed. One of them is in “adverse possession” of Bangladesh (Boroibari) and the other one is being in “adverse possession” of India (Pyrdiwah).
2. Both BDR and BSF were aggressors – but in different places.
3. Both India and Bangladesh agreed not to use power till the demarcation is done.
“Pending demarcation of the boundary and exchange of territory by mutual agreement, there should be no disturbance of the status quo and peaceful conditions shall be maintained in the border regions.”
4. The official Bangladesh version claimed that BDR did not cross the border but gherao-ed the post from three sides. However, BDR DG claimed immediately after the Pyrdiwah said that they did so because it was illegally occupied by India. (BBC Quotes)
“It is clear that the trouble began when the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) – the Bangladeshi border force – retook Pyrdiwah village, in the Indian state of Meghalaya.
The BDR chief said that Pyrdiwah had been illegally occupied by India since Bangladesh’s war of independence in 1971.
Questions are now being asked as to what prompted Bangladesh to take on the Indian Border Security Force when it had waited 30 years to resolve the dispute. “
Follow Up on Requests
I have received quite a few requests to present statistics of how Indians and Bangladeshis get killed in border areas. Let me again take help of Willem van Schendel and quote him from a different book. The statistics covers five years (1998-2002) of time span when the author visited the borders and studies press releases from both the countries.
Let me brief the statistics :
- BSF killed 202 Bangladeshis and injured/abducted 334 of them
BDR killed 39 Indians and injured/abducted 89 of them.
During the same period, the collateral damage was also quite high.
- BSF killed 48 Indians and injured/abducted 43 of them
BDR killed 5 Bangladeshis and injured/abducted 398 of them.
He also compared the situation against Bangladesh Myanmar border.
Let’s brief the statistics for Nasaka (Myanmar border forces) :
- Nasaka killed 31 Bangladeshis and injured/abducted 244 of them
Nasaka killed 6 Burmese and injured/abducted 23 of them
Aren’t the numbers too high?