October 7, 2011
M. Serajul Islam
During the recently concluded meeting of chiefs of BGB and BSF, there was disagreement on how many people were killed by the BSF on the Bangladesh-India border this year. The figure of 7 given by the Director-General of BSF has been contested by the leader of the Bangladesh side who put the number at 12. Odhikar, a human rights organization, put the number at 21 adding that the BSF has not yet abandoned its policy of “shoot at sight” that was assured by the Indian Home Minister P. Chidambaram.
The deaths are a contentious issue in Bangladesh-India relations. So far, over a 1000 Bangladeshis have been killed in the last one decade; deaths that have been documented in reports by human rights organizations including the New York based Human Rights Watch. These reports show that the Bangladeshis were shot to kill simply, as a former Indian Foreign Secretary had said, for being in a wrong place at a wrong time.
Nirupoma Rao was right when she said on her official visit to Dhaka last year that our citizens who were killed should not have where they were shot. Except this one, she missed or ignored a host of other points for a correct perspective of an extremely serious problem. In fact, she distorted the problem. The major point she missed was that the Bangladeshis could have easily been apprehended and their lives spared. They were unarmed, not terrorists and killed from behind while running away.
There were other points she missed. She missed acknowledging that India has the border fenced by barbed wire where these deaths occur and thus impenetrable except through check posts for legal trade and legal human traffic. The Indian BSF controls the check posts. Nevertheless, illegal trade and human trafficking, or smuggling, worth over US$ 2-3 billion a year occurs between Bangladesh and India mainly through these gates and check points.
New York Times writing on the fencing not too long ago reported that an entire village in Bangladesh can cross the border by paying the right amount of money to the BSF. The same goes for illegal trade. In fact, well organized smuggling groups on the Indian side control the illegal trade and human trafficking where complicity of the BSF is self-evident. The depth and extent of collaboration of other government agencies is palpably evident from the case of phensedyl smuggling. Phensedyl has no market in the Indian state of Paschim Banga (PB). In Bangladesh, it is a widely used addictive drug. In PB close to Bangladesh-India border, with full knowledge of the Indian authorities, phensedyl factories have been set up so that their products can be smuggled to Bangladesh!
The case of cattle smuggling from India to Bangladesh is another example of deep complicity and/or knowledge of the Indian authorities in sustaining smuggling because of the sheer financial gains that is worth in billions of US $ . Secular India does not allow beef to be marketed locally except in Kolkata and Kerala. Nevertheless it looks the other way as cattle are bought as far away from Bangladesh-India border as Punjab to be smuggled to Bangladesh where it has a huge market.
The deaths of Bangladeshis and also Indians occur on the border mainly when deals through which such illegal trade is carried out, goes foul. The Bangladeshis who are used as human shields by the smugglers are then caught at the wrong place at the wrong time. When the deals are smooth on human trafficking, the Bangladeshis cross the border more smoothly than those who cross the border with valid visa. Likewise, when deals on goods are smooth, these are allowed to cross the border without any barrier where legal goods are subjected on the Indian side to all sorts of tariff and non-tariff barriers.
The saddest part of all these is that Indian actions on the border just not ends killing innocent Bangladeshis; it also results in victimizing the victim. We get a bad name internationally as the fence on our border by India gives the rest of the world the impression that Bangladeshis are migrating illegally to India in millions because of unbearable economic hardships. The Indians, when the BJP was in power, came up with an absurd number of 20 million Bangladeshis in India. They have never told us how they arrived at the absurd figure.
Instead, the BJP Government had threatened to “round up” these alleged Bangladeshis to force them across the border! India that is making claims of becoming a world power, must behave in a manner that goes with the status it seeks in world politics. It must provide Bangladesh with a list of the 20 million illegal Bangladeshis. In preparing the list, it must bear in mind that anyone speaking Bangla in other parts of India is not necessarily a Bangladeshi for there are 130 million people of PB whose mother tongue is Bangla too.
India must also keep in mind that its economic development notwithstanding, India is no USA or Canada for Bangladeshis to risk their lives, bribe the BSF and seek a livelihood in the slums of India. People of PB have more compelling reasons to do so for as a sovereign country, Bangladeshis can seek what they are accused of seeking in India, in the ME and other parts of the world where 7 million Bangladeshis have already migrated.
There are of course Bangladeshis in India illegally but the number of 20 million is absurd to be true. The Bangladeshis who land up in other parts of India are in fact victims of smuggling rackets on the Indian side of Bangladesh-India border. Many of them are promised jobs in the ME and land up in India and even in Pakistan where these human traffickers abandon them.
It is time for Bangladesh to flag to India the instances where its own governmental agencies are involved in acts that are illegal, affecting Bangladesh-India relations adversely and giving Bangladesh a bad name internationally. We are the victims; subjected to indiscriminate shootings leading to deaths; fenced; being cheated of revenue due to smuggling rackets who operate with full knowledge of the authorities and in case of the BSF, its patronage. Yet, we are projected by the Indian government and its media not as offenders!
Coming back to DG, BSF’s claim of 7 deaths, not even one is acceptable to Bangladesh for it is murder in cold blood and brings back the memories of the thousand innocent victims killed so far. The hypocrisy with the illegal trade of cattle should end and the trade should be made legal. Bangladesh is losing huge revenue to the Indian smugglers and their official patrons. The Indian Government should take immediate steps to destroy the smuggling network whose roots are on its side and sustained the BSF that is the cause of deaths of the innocent Bangladeshis for which the Government of India owes Bangladesh an official apology.
As the victim, Bangladesh should be vocal on what happens on the Bangladesh-India border not just at border related talks but at all other bilateral forums for we are allowing India to literally get away with murder.
The writer is a former Ambassador to Japan and Egypt