By Adil Mahmood for AlaloDulal
An important point often missed in heated discussions on Border Killings is our national culture – that we share with our giant democratic neighbour – of holding life of the subaltern citizens as less valuable.
In both countries the forces can do whatever to unarmed poor people with a tacit sanction from the government. Though the Human Rights organisations raise some ruckus for a while, far too often the armed forces of the state grossly violate human rights with obvious or subtle acquiescence of the general public and the government – as for example, the “Crossfire’ by RAB. While many human rights groups are vocal against this unconstitutional practice, the general people is overwhelmingly quiet. We cannot delink the principles behind ‘Crossfire’ from ‘Border Killings’, since, what is perceived as a justified measure to control criminals in our country should also be deem to be a justified measure to control illegal immigration and terrorist infiltration in another country.
Some of you may think that I am moralising here, but it is very relevant and important to understand the overall dynamic. Consistent with the Indian law and our laws regarding basic human rights, our citizens have been crying in the media that even cow smugglers and illegal immigrants should not be shot at or to be killed. Yet, the Indian Border Security high officials denounce that cow smugglers should be shot at the scene of crime, as a summary justice for such crimes.
Equivocal support to shoot cattle traders from our border security bigwigs is even more shocking. The two sides sing from the same hymn sheet when the lives of poor criminals are on the line. The Bangladeshi side only lodges formal protests when victims are not smugglers or when BSF illegally encroaches inside Bangladeshi territory to flex their muscle. Human Rights Watch published a comprehensive report on the deadliest border on December 2010 called “Trigger Happy”.
Some of the quotations from BSF and BDR are outrageously revealing. Raman Srivastava, Director General of the BSF during an official visit to Bangladesh in September 2010, responded to Bangladesh’s complaints: “We fire at criminals who violate the border norms. The deaths have occurred in Indian territory and mostly during night, so how can they be innocent?”
However, we know that the Indian law clearly stipulates that BSF should fire only when they are facing danger and their life or security is in peril. The cavalier attitude of the BSF official is shocking but what our sons of soil in the BDR says is more chilling. BDR chief Maj. Gen. Mainul Islam, in explaing “people and cattle trafficking during darkness,” said of the killings: “We should not be worried about such incidents…. We have discussed the matter and will ensure that no innocent people will be killed.”
The HRW reports says that the BDR raises serious concerns with the BSF only when cases of indiscriminate firing lead to the death of villagers not involved in smuggling. There is unofficial curfew everyday in the border from dusk to dawn. Shoot to kill anybody who shouldn’t be there in the borderline during this period is the policy of BSF. Everyone living in the border regions and people trying to cross the border know this and they plan their activities accordingly. Although the trigger hands that initiate most deaths in the border belong to BSF, our border patrol share the responsibility of the acts too. The HRW report says that “officials of both governments believe that it is legal to use lethal force against those suspected of being engaged in smuggling or other illegal activities. This amounts to a de facto shoot-to-kill policy for smugglers, and violates both national and international standards on the right to life and the presumption of innocence which are applicable in India and Bangladesh”.
The HRW report clearly shows that the ‘summary justice’ of BSF is not just reserved for Bangladeshi people but also for Indian citizens in the border region. Many innocent and criminal Indian citizens are tortured and killed by BSF regularly. Women and children in the Indian side of the border are not safe from BSF either. The number is fewer only because most of the traffic is one way.
BSF has to file an official report after each fatal incident. Remarkably the reports are similar irrespective of time and place. Uncannily the reports are also strikingly similar to our RAB reports after each crossfire incident. The cow smugglers ‘open fire’ on the BSF and the BSF fire back to save themselves. Indian government is fully aware of the travesty of these killings but take no firm stand against this killing spree. The Indian government is so determined to stop illegal border crossing that it treats all these as acceptable collateral damage. Just as we regard occasional death of innocents as regrettable but unavoidable in our crossfire policy of crime control, Indian government and people takes a similar ‘realist’ mindset.
Reform should begin at home. Of course we must vehemently protest death of our fellow citizens at the hands of outsiders but we cannot turn our face away from killing of our citizens by our uniformed forces without due process of justice. The quotations mentioned in the article not only reflect the attitude to human rights of Indian officials but also attitude of our officials and citizens. If we do not value lives of our fellow citizens why should we expect different from people of different countries?
A Bangla version of this article was previously published in Muktomona.com