6 oct 2011
A Statement by the Asian Human Rights CommissionThe Border Security Force (BSF) is a para-military detachment of the Indian armed forces. However, in places where the BSF is deployed in India, the force is infamous for barbaric acts of violence, which they commit with impunity. In India, the BSF is sometimes referred to as the ‘barbaric’ security force. The recent incident of stoning a person to death by the BSF stationed along the Indo-Bangladesh border is the latest example to this reality.
It is reported that on 4 July 2011 BSF officers stoned to death, Mr Md. Rafikul Sheikh, a farmer and resident of Ufarmara village Lalmonirhat district. The murder happened near Fokirer Danga village, under the jurisdiction of Mekhliganj Police Station, Coochbehar district. The 104 Battalion of the BSF is posted in the locality.
Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM) from India and Odhikar from Bangladesh have informed the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) that they have undertaken a fact-finding mission spanning across both sides of the border concerning the incident. MASUM informs the AHRC that stoning persons at will is a new tactic adopted by the BSF, since the Director General of the BSF, has declared that the BSF will resist using fire power against the civilians. In that, though shooting or committing other forms of violence against the civilians are equally despicable; the BSF has taken a quantum leap across centauries backward into history, by abandoning their assault rifles and picking up stones to murder people. The AHRC and MASUM has reported more than 300 cases over the past eight years in which the BSF has been suspected to be behind murders, rapes and torture of civilians along the Indo-Bangladesh border. Most of these cases have thus far fallen upon muted ears, though MASUM reports that the number of incidents of BSF sponsored violence has reduced for the moment. Despite the case reports, until today, not a single case has been successfully registered against the BSF where a satisfactory investigation and prosecution has been undertaken against a BSF officer. In that, the BSF enjoys almost complete impunity for the crimes they commit.
The Indo-Bangladesh border is relatively porous due to historical, geographical, financial and political reasons. Families separated by the international border; drawn and redrawn by bilateral politics and geography, have no means to be in touch with each other. Most of the families that live along both sides of the border are extremely poor. High rates of illiteracy, unemployment, landlessness and therefore poverty, and poverty-induced malnutrition, are common phenomena in most of the poor households in the Indian side of the border.
Many households do not even figure in the government’s records, since the government has been denying the citizenship status or other identification/welfare service accessing documents like a ration card to the families. Due to this and further because of the government’s continuing apathy towards the people living in the area, government facilities required to support life and the welfare of a community, like hospitals, schools, rationed food distribution centres are also not adequately made available in the region. Since similar conditions exist in the Bangladesh side of the border, conditions there are also equally bad.
The Government of India or the West Bengal state government have neglected the plight of the persons living in the Indian side of the border, that today many of them fall prey to illegal cross-border rackets to etch a living. Hence, often for many who live in the region, the only means of income is to work for cross-border smugglers, shepherding herds of cattle, or smuggling commodities like rice, medicines or drugs between the two countries. These activities happen often in the cover of darkness. It involves not only risking lives at the hands of the BSF and their counterpart in Bangladesh, the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB), but also crossing the torrents of river Padma and other rivers, flowing between India and Bangladesh.
It is reported that Rafikul is one such victim who ended up at the hands of the BSF at the Shanijan River, who instead of firing at him, stoned Rafikul to death.
MASUM and the AHRC have reported cases where the BSF also is suspected aiding cross-border smugglers by ‘stage managing’ events. Often the BSF either arrest or fire at persons found along the border or detain or shoot persons on the pretext of preventing smuggling while at the same time allowing large contingents of contraband to cross the border without notice. In most reported cases, the victims are individuals who were attending to their small patches of farmlands or innocent civilians who by sheer chance happened to come across a border patrol unit. In most of the cases, the pattern observed is that the BSF to immediately file a complaint at the local police station against the deceased accusing the person as trying to assault the BSF with weapons when they were stopped for questioning, and hence had to be shot in self-defence by the officers. Though police registers a case based on the BSF complaint, they close it as ‘not required to be investigated’ since the accused is already dead.
In several of such cases the victims are found shot at close range. In many cases, the victims are minors and the weapon allegedly used by the ‘suspect’ in the attempt to attack the BSF is a stick, a sickle or a small knife, which are common possessions of the farmers living in the region. Should the relatives of the victim try to file a complaint against the BSF, the police refuse to either register the case on the ground that no criminal case could be registered against the BSF, as it is prohibited by the Border Security Force Act, 1968 or if a case is registered, fail to investigate it. It is also alleged that some police officers are engaged in the cross-border smuggling activities. Two particular police stations, notorious for its open and clandestine engagement with the smugglers are the Jalangi and Raningar Police Stations.
In Rafikul’s case, MASUM has reported the matter to the Indian authorities and called for an investigation. As it were in the past occasions, no credible action is expected to follow.
What is evident in this case and in the cases reported so far, the BSF enjoys absolute impunity for their crimes. The scenario is such that today the protector has turned the perpetrator. Worse still, they have now started resorting to barbaric means with which they murder, maim and torture people.
The question is whether the government is willing to do anything to end this entrenched culture of impunity. From the experiences so far, the answer will have to be an emphatic no. Just as it is for the poor in the rest of India, the destitute who are destined to live and face the brutality of the country’s security machinery, neither have an option to escape from the place nor to find a living, since for the Government of India, they do not exist.
October 6, 2011