Continued BSF killings and home minister’s self-defence claim
THE killing of four Bangladeshi cattle traders by the Indian Border Security Force in 48 hours—that too, in the first two days of the New Year—is indeed alarming as it tends to suggest that neither the border guards nor the political incumbents of India are willing to put an end to the excesses and atrocities perpetrated on Bangladeshis living in the border area. What must have left most Bangladeshis spellbound, however, is the home minister’s reaction to the latest killings, of two Bangladeshi cattle traders at Bibhishon frontier in Gomastapur upazila of Chapainawabganj early Wednesday. Instead of unconditionally condemning the killings, the minister, Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir, according to media reports, indicated that the governments of Bangladesh and India have an understanding that allows the border guards to shoot in ‘self-defence’ and said that Dhaka would investigate whether the BSF ‘had opened fire in self-defence... if it was not for self-defence then necessary steps would be taken through the proper channel.’
First of all, his claim of a bilateral understanding on shooting in self-defence is news because, over the past four years or so, no member of the Bangladesh government has even hinted at its existence. Moreover, the joint communiqué released in New Delhi at the end of the January 2010 India visit of the prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, has no indication of such an understanding, nor does the communiqué released at the end of the September 2011 reciprocal visit by the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh. On the contrary, the Delhi communiqué (section 18) clearly states that ‘both Prime Ministers agreed that the respective border guards exercise restraint’. In fact, ‘self-defence’ has been the catchphrase that the BSF top brass and the Indian government have consistently used in their bids to justify the extrajudicial killings by the Indian border guards. The home minister’s claim seems to betray the AL-government’s acceptance of India’s tenuous rationale.
Secondly, ‘self-defence’ implies that the Indian border guards were attacked first in each case of such killings and thus forced to retaliate. Suffice it to say, media reports, quoting witness accounts and even official statements from the Bangladesh’s border guards, on none of the case substantiate such arguments. Moreover, such claims defy the social and historical realities in the border areas in question. The people who live in the bordering areas are mostly poor and bound by a common history and culture, and many of them even by familial bonds. Of course, some of the people on either side of the border may be involved in illegal cattle trade but merely to take the cattle across the border. It is entirely unlikely that they would even dare launch an attack on such a regimented force as the BSF.
Thirdly, it seems that the Indian border guards are only entitled to ‘self-defence’. After all, there have been numerous cases where the BSF either actively supervised or instigated incursion of Indian nationals into the Bangladesh territory for harvesting crops or fishing. In many such instances, the Indian intruders, including the BSF personnel, attacked Bangladeshis and their property. However, never have we heard of any instances where anyone was shot at, let alone, killed by Bangladesh’s border guards.
In the end, one must say, the home minister’s statement smacks of the same capitulation that particularly the AL-government has effected in its overall dealings with India. It is unfortunate, and indeed unacceptable, that the minister of a government elected by the people should so nonchalantly disregard the rights and concerns of the people and toe the line of the political establishment of the country that has consistently dismissed Bangladesh’s genuine concerns and legitimate demands.
In such circumstances, it is imperative for the rights conscious sections of society to step forward, demand an explanation from the incumbents for the home minister’s remarks and register collective protests against India’s highhandedness.
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