BSF ears wide shut

Border killing goes unabated as Delhi’s ‘no-fire order’ falls on deaf ears

M Rahman

Indian Border Security Force has killed two Bangladeshis and injured 10 others on average per month this year despite repeated pledges by their home minister not to open fire along the border.

“Under no circumstances would the Indian border security force fire upon anyone trying to cross into India from Bangladesh,” Indian Home Minister P Chidambaram said on July 30 last year during his visit to Dhaka.

“The message has gone down to the last jawan,” he added.

But after 25 days of his directive, BSF opened fire in Kolaroa upazila of Satkhira on August 25 injuring a Bangladeshi.

The brutal killings along the border had declined only for a few months after Chidambaram’s visit to Dhaka as the BSF shot dead seven Bangladeshis between August and December last year, according to data of Odhikar, a rights body.

The BSF has killed 10 Bangladeshis and injured 43 others in the last four months.

The BSF chief, though, in an interview with BBC on January 7 said it is not possible for them to stop firing along the border. His statement showed the BSF’s lack of willingness in lowering the number of border killings to zero.

Home Minister Shahara Khatun had toured India in February. During her trip, her counterpart P Chidambaram renewed his pledge. “We have reiterated that we don’t intend to continue firing and killing along the border.”

“We have identified 23 vulnerable border outposts. The two countries will strengthen the presence of the border guards at those points and undertake joint consultations,” he added.

The BSF is using lethal weapons instead of rubber bullets at many of the 23 vulnerable points, said sources at Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB).

“The BSF is using rubber bullets only at some points and we cannot disclose those due to strategic reasons,” Maj Gen Anwar Hossain, director general of BGB, told The Daily Star.

If the Indian border guards introduce rubber bullets at all the vulnerable areas, the killing of Bangladeshis will decline to a great extent, he said.

Bangladeshi cattle traders and agricultural workers are the major victims to the BSF shooting as they work at night in the fields near the border, he pointed out.

“We have initiated programmes to sensitise the vulnerable groups on the issue with the help of local elderly people, public representatives and Imams of mosques,” said Anwar.

“We have advised the local cattle traders not to cross into India for fetching cattle risking their lives. Rather they should ask the Indian traders to send those to Bangladesh,” he maintained.

The agricultural workers have been advised to inform the BGB personnel before going to work in bordering fields at night. The BGB members will inform the BSF about this in advance to ensure they do not open fire on the workers taking them for smugglers.

These intensive awareness programmes have been very effective in reducing border killings by the BSF, said the BGB chief.

The BSF in March proposed imposing curfews along the border at night, but the BGB disagreed. “Imposing curfews is only a temporary solution. It will not solve the problem at all, rather will undermine people’s constitutional right to movement,” he added.

Contacted, State Minister for Home Shamsul Hoque Tuku said, “Killing along the border is an old issue and I don’t claim that such homicides have stopped.”

“If we look at the statistics of border killings since our independence, we will notice a declining trend,” he added.

He expressed satisfaction saying that the country for the first time has been able to convince India that killing on the border is inhuman.

According to statistics of Odhikar, the border killings have declined over the last few years.

The BSF has killed 31 Bangladeshis last year, 74 in 2010 and 96 in 2009.

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