Photo: Andrew Biraj/Reuters
Millions of Bangladeshis in home and abroad on March 16 greeted the national cricket team for bringing them splendid joyful feelings after beatingIndiain the Asia Cup at Mirpur cricket stadium. Certainly, it was a special match to be overjoyed since little master Sachin Tendulkar strike his 100th hundred on this day, after a long hiatus of one year since he hit the 99th one, and it was a victory against the world champions, who in the inaugural match of the World Cup at the same venue last February defeated the host team.
This victory also brought smiles to non-resident Bangladeshis and fans of Tiger Cricket all over the world as well. The heat could be felt well on internet through the social networking sites, widely Facebook. Almost none forget to greet the Tigers for their tremendous performance and the little master of cricket, the legendary Tendulkar, for his brilliant ton.
As soon as everyone could smell the historic victory of the Tigers a bit earlier, the Tiger fans increased the rate of sharing their status and different other postings including prayers for their team’s success. The Facebook authorities might have registered the volume of traffic on their site from Bangladesh and on ‘Bangladesh Cricket’.
With praises for their performance and good wishes for the upcoming matches of the bi-annual tournament and beyond, the players were being flooded with love. The witnesses of the match at Mirpur stadium felt they were the luckiest to be there on the spot where Bangladesh defeated India– the team of several stars – chasing a quite hard target. The fans at the stadium must be praised for their immense support during the play towards the team.
But within the cricket match, there was something else but cricket there. There were some ten Tiger Cricket fans, who were endeavoured by the spirit of nationality and the prestige of the motherland to raise placards in the gallery of a jam-packed stadium having “STOP BSF BRUTALITY” written on it. They cheered when the Tigers were bowling and fielding well, and were thrashing the Indian team bowlers. Besides enjoying the high-voltage match, they were intended to tell the spectators in the stadium and those around the world watching the match on television how much they were shocked and angered by the “excessive use of force” by the Indian frontiers along Bangladesh border.
The band of demonstrators who regularly watch the Tiger’s matches in stadiums is also active in Facebook. Mostly teenagers and youths, they seemed to be students. After the match they uploaded a photograph of their group standing at the top of a gallery holding in hand several poster papers that had the slogan written. The photo was quickly shared by hundreds when several times comments came in expressing solidarity with the call.
It was rather a slightly better day in the border since the very previous day border Security Force (BSF) and Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) chiefs sat together in Delhi and discussed in a frequently regular manner to find how casualties could be reduced. BSF boss UK Bansal said they had decided to take “further measures” to minimise the use of lethal weapons, when they would avoid, at all costs, use of lethal force against unarmed people and those “inadvertently” crossing the border.
They had taken a three-point initiative, which denotes deployment of additional security forces in both the sides at the “vulnerable patches”, increasing people’s awareness on not to cross border without documents, and sharing of information by the two frontiers on movement of smugglers and other criminals during “hours of darkness”.
Dhaka also strongly rejected India’s suggestion to impose night curfew along its areas very close to the border to check illegal cross-border movement. The BGB chief said they did not believe in curfew as every citizen of country has equal right to movement within the boundary of the country.
Border killing has become a burning issue among the common people of Bangladesh as well as to the politicians other than the ruling government to be resolved immediately. Protesters are fuelled asking why there should be any ‘extrajudicial’ demise – a violation of human rights – despite repeated promises by the Indian top authorities.
Rights group Odhikar in its 2011 report said BSF killed 31 Bangladeshi nationals last year when the killing of 15-year-old Felani was a much-talked-about incident. The number was 74 in 2010 and 98 in 2009. Both governments try to cash in the statistics mentioning that it is in a declining mode.
Well, measures of the type recently taken, or more precisely discussed, and even stricter ones were undertaken on several occasions even in the recent past and at the highest-levels of the two governments, both of who tend to prove that they are cordial with each other and moving towards an iconic regional cooperation. Last year, there had been agreement between the sides, accepted by Bangladesh, over BSF’s using “rubber bullets” instead of “lethal weapons”. It was much disgraceful, at least for the majority people of Bangladesh, who have always been the target of BSF shooters on duty at the border outposts since the two home ministers could not agree upon moving towards additional forces and immediate “detention” on either sides of the border that stretches over 4,100 kilometres, but shooting.
On February 28, the BSF chief had become a news of frustration and anger after saying in a BBC Bangla interview that they were unable to totally stop firing along the border, explaining “so long criminal activities would continue to take place along the India-Bangladesh border, the BSF will have to prevent those offences and it is the duty of the force.”
The Indian approach is, in no way, acceptable since they have been carrying out the murders without any “incitement” since the number of Indian killed at the hands of the (BGB) for intrusion or smuggling as nominal as be ignored. Moreover, the rate of deaths is also alarming for two countries that have no war ongoing between them and both striving for peace and regional cooperation.
The Bangladeshi foreign minister, BGB chief, National Human Rights Commission chairman, former diplomats, academicians, and the people protested at Bansal’s remark. The BGB chief in response told a local news agency that the members of his force do not shoot at Indian trespassers, but arrest and try them under the laws of the land — in line with the International Human Rights Convention.
On January 21, LGRD Minister Syed Ashraful Islam in Dhaka said the government was not worried at all over the incidents of torture and killing of Bangladeshi nationals along the border, since such killings are not new. Indian Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee in Kolkata echoed Ashraf, who also said, “Many such incidents are taking place in the bordering areas of the countries–cattle lifting, drug smuggling and many other things. This is nothing new. These happened in the past, are happening now and will also happen in future… The state is not too much concerned about it. It is not right that the state shall focus only on these issues, leaving aside all other businesses.”
These statements were criticised heavily by the opposition political parties as well as the people. All these were heat-waves blown in both the countries following the revelation of a video footage showing a Bangladeshi cattle smuggler being stripped and tortured by the Indian border guards in Murshidabad aired by Indian TV channels, firstly NDTV in early February. The victim said BSF men in uniform tortured him undressed on December 9 last year as he refused to pay them a bribe.
It was a part of the continuous suppression by the BSF men, who are now reportedly kidnapping Bangladeshis from the border areas. Earlier, the bodies of those missing at the borders were found to be flowing with the river current, media reports suggest.
The torture incident drew much criticism within months when four people were shot dead on December 16 – Bangladesh’s Victory Day – and on 17th, and nearly a year after the death of 15-year old Felani on January 7 and her body hanging on the barbed fences in a barbarian way. BSF shot dead the teenager when she was returning home with her father from India through Phulbari border in Kurigram. The governments conducted their formal proceedings of protests and apologies. But the incidents of killing, torture and kidnapping continue.
Immediately after such incidents, people here have been agitating on the streets, at discussions and the social networking sites – thanks to media – against, what they claim,India’s reluctance to draw an end to border killing and torture followed by investigation into the incidents and punishment of the perpetrators.
“These horrific images of torture on video show what rights groups have long documented: that India’s Border Security Force is out of control,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch, expressing concern of the global rights watchdog. “The Indian government is well aware of killings and torture at the border, but has never prosecuted the troops responsible. This video provides a clear test case of whether the security forces are above the law inIndia,” he said while demanding that the force’s members be prosecuted for such extralegal offences.
Following protests in favour of the Bangladesh side, the BSF authorities suspended the accused members and after investigations on March 15 in a court martial handed down 89-day jail term for seven soldiers and one head constable as the charges of stripping, kicking and beating the Bangladeshi national were found prima facie guilty after an inquiry. The head constable was demoted in order to implement his sentence, as one of that post cannot be jailed under the BSF rules. It has happened probably for the first time.
India categorically regretted over the deaths in December, but defended themselves saying that the BSF sometimes shoots for “self-defence”, a term used by Bangladesh’s elite force Rab while publicising reports of deaths of “criminals” in the so-called “crossfire”. The BSF trick, however, was successful to dumb Bangladesh government, as it seemed to have worked as a boomerang.
The extent of brutality by the BSF soldiers has drawn the eyes of the United Nations and international as well as local rights groups and Bangladeshi people from all strata at home and abroad. News reports say a UN special envoy is visiting India this week to examine the incidents of summary and extrajudicial killings taking place in the Indian bordering areas.
There have been talks between the two border forces at lower- and top- levels to stop border killing, contain human trafficking, smuggling of drugs, cattle and other products, and intrusion of Bangladeshi people and Indian insurgents and separatists. As yet, no government of both the countries ever took any ‘effective’ decision to stop forever smuggling of drugs, cattle, arms, and trafficking. Thus, these “illegal but open trading” continue to take place everyday and sometimes intervened by the BSF. What would happen if the some dishonest BSF personnel did not allow smuggling and intrusion against bribe? What if the BSF soldiers did not shoot at all, like the BGB men and put the detained on trail?
So, it is happening despite repeated pledges, might be because that the directives from Delhi do not reach to the outposts.
Many fans in the stadium were after the victory happier than ever only because it was the world champions India and, from another perspective, as a nation, the killers of Bangladeshis along the border.
Due to obstructions by police and relatively aggressive volunteers at the entry points, many fans could not enter the stadium with publicity tools “protesting BSF brutality” with them. The only group holding the posers at the gallery was also threatened several times by the volunteers to put down the publicity, and at one stage those were snatched from them. These protesters as well as the people who were unable to demonstrate inside the stadium clearly demand execution of the “zero killing pledges” by the India, who are currently one of most powerful nations in the world.
There were many Bangladeshis blindly supporting Indian cricket entering the stadium with Indian flags, posters of cricketers. However, all cheered together when Tendulkar, an Indian super hero, hit his landmark century.
Soon after reaching the victory, fans at the stadium and anywhere flooded into ecstasy, when updating status, sharing and expressing solidarity with the others’, posting photos and posters on Facebook saw a dramatic rise. Statements were issued from the president, prime minister, opposition leader and speaker greeting the triumphant cricketers too.
Some of the Facebook statuses tangled with the border issue are put here for our readers:
1. “The soldiers of Mushfique (Tigers’ skipper) have taken revenge of Felani killing. May be we are small in the map, but we can also smash big guns in the [cricket] field.”
2. “We don’t beat (kill) along border, but on the [cricket] field.”
Comments on the photo the youth holding the posters said:
1. “We all need to say SHABASH (bravo) to all of those youngsters who are holding this banner “STOP BSF BRUTALITY” … and also feel sad for those who took off this banner from them later on.”
2. “Protibadta khelar math theke-e shuru hok. R ei protibader vasha aghat koruk Agrashi indiar ontore (Let the protest start from the playground and hit the heart of aggressiveIndia[n authority].”
3. “Proud of them. In fact, the present generation are more concerned about their motherland than the so-called corrupt politicians. That’s why whatever resources they got, they’re protesting with it. We want to live more to see them in leadership of BD.”