“Zero death.” These words come up whenever a Bangladeshi national is killed at the border. In the inevitable flag meetings that follow the killings, Bangladesh expresses concern and India makes promises of stopping the killings. But the killings at the border continue unabated.
The number of border killings tripled last year compared to 2018, according to rights watchdog Ain O Salish Kendra. At least 43 Bangladeshis were killed by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) in 2019 while it was 14 in 2018, it said. At least seven people got killed along the border this month.
Meanwhile, the two governments keep claiming that Bangladesh-India relationship has reached new heights in the last decade. Four Bangladeshis were killed in the Noagaon and Jashore borders Thursday and two others were shot dead in Lalmonirhat the day before.
“It is surprising that killings along the border are going on even after the issue has been discussed in different forums of the two governments on multiple occasions. It means the Indian government is not sending the message to its trigger-happy border force,” said CR Abrar, professor of international relations at Dhaka University.
“It seems to me that the Indian government is not considering the killings a problem. At the same time, we are not raising the point properly. Imagine what would happen if a single such death happened along the India-Pakistan border,” he added.
Bangladesh should protest strongly and take effective steps to stop the killings, he said. Bangladesh is surrounded by India on three sides and the two countries share 4,156 kilometres of border, the world’s fifth-longest. In a meeting of the director generals of the BSF and Border Guard Bangladesh last December in Delhi, Indian officials said they would remain cautious and avoid the “undesirable deaths”.
On January 11, Foreign Minister AK Momen told reporters: “India promised [that] not even a single person would die in the border areas. Unfortunately, border killing is a reality. We are concerned”. It is often said that the killings are an outcome of cattle smuggling. But cattle smuggling has reduced a lot in recent years because Bangladesh is self-sufficient in meat production.
A year before India’s ban on cattle export in 2014, around 2.3 million cattle were brought to Bangladesh from India during the Eid-ul-Azha. The number fell to 92,000 in 2019, according to BGB data. Of the 43 Bangladeshis killed last year, 37 were shot dead while the rest were tortured to death. The BGB maintains that 35 people were killed by the BSF last year. The death toll was 24 in 2017, 31 in 2016, and 46 in 2015, according to ASK.
Row over killings at Bangladesh-India border
The recent spike in the killings of civilians along the India-Bangladesh border has created a row between the border guards of two countries. A meeting conducted last week between the senior border officials of two countries failed to break the ground, with both of them accusing each other of escalation. A flag meeting was called, after killing of seven Bangladeshi civilians in three days from Jan. 21-Jan. 23.
“Indian border guard’s narrative on border killings at the meeting was unacceptable,” Lt. Col. Mohiuddin Ahmed, director of the Bangladesh Border Guards (BGBs) operations division told Anadolu Agency on phone. Indian Border Security Force (BSF) officials had expressed regret at the killings but stated that they had to resort to firing as a measure of self-defense. Ahmed said the statement was unacceptable and his side was not convinced, as the Indian side could not recover any weapon from the deceased.
Bangladesh is surrounded by India from three sides. The two countries share the world’s fifth-longest border at 4,156 kilometers (2582 miles). Talking to Anadolu Agency on phone from India’s eastern metropolis of Kolkata, Deputy Inspector General of BSF, S. S. Guleria said his force had killed infiltrators who had entered into Indian territory as an act of self-defense.
“The criminals died as an act of self-defense by our BSF personnel, to prevent infiltration and smuggling. They died in a scuffle. We do not like. Those lives should not have been lost. But these criminals have been causing a lot of problems. We had raised this issue with the BGB in the flag meetings. Last year we lost 3 BSF personnel, while 45 got injured,” he said.
Describing situation along the India-Bangladesh border very complex, Guleria who is in charge of South Bengal frontiers, said the trans-border crime has become a way of life for most of the border residents, who indulge in cattle smuggling.
“Last five years, the dynamics have changed. But these cattle hoarders still try to smuggle cattle from India and the money is then used for illegal activities including procuring drugs and weapons,” said the officer.
Guleria said that these smugglers are armed with country made weapons and during the night they let loose cattle violently to overrun guards. “Many of our security men have got injured in the past due to their acts,” he added.
“These lives should not have been lost, we agree, but can they explain what were these civilians doing on the Indian side of the border? They were killed on our side,” said another BSF official, who did not want to be named.
Ahmed, however, charged that the India side was not implementing the commitment that they had agreed to during various bilateral meetings. The commitments included either using non-lethal weapons or to detain civilians attempting to cross the border.
“We conveyed our concern over the deaths in the meeting. After analyzing the border killing incidents, we came to know that the BSF did not recover any weapons or bombs from the deceased. Therefore, the narrative put out by Indian BSF is not acceptable,” he added.
Both countries had committed to avoid opening fire at civilians and bring killings to zero. “But they (BSF) are not meeting to their words,” said Ahmed.
Meanwhile, a group of students at the Dhaka University premises protested the border killings and demanded justice under international law. Ariful Islam Adib, a post-graduation level student at Jahangirnagar University has started fast-unto-death in front of the National Press Club in capital Dhaka protesting at the deaths.
At least 43 Bangladeshi citizens were killed by the BSF in 2019, a threefold increase from 14 in 2018, according to a report by rights watchdog Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK). At least 10 killings have also been reported since the beginning of 2020.