The killing of Bangladeshi nationals along the border with India has been a contentious bilateral issue. Despite Delhi’s assurance to bring down border deaths to zero, the situation has improved very little over the years.
Officials in Dhaka say cattle smuggling, intrusion and cutting down of barbed-wire border fence are some of the key reasons behind the continuation of border killings.
Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) officials say these reasons were impeding efforts to end the killing of Bangladeshis by their Indian counterparts, insisting that the number of deaths has declined over the years.
Government officials say the main agenda in Bangladesh-India bilateral meetings are smuggling of drugs and firearms and border killing. The issue of border killing is always brought up at each meeting.
According to BGB figures, 936 Bangladeshis were killed between 2001 and 2017, by the BSF and Indian nationals. Of them, the BSF killed 767 Bangladeshis.
Since the Awami League came to power, 67 Bangladeshis were killed along the border in 2009. The figure was 60 in 2010, 39 in 2011, 34 in 2012, 28 in 2013, 40 in 2014, 45 in 2015, 31 in 2016 and 21 until December 21 last year.
BGB members work by maintaining good relations with the Border Security Force (BSF) as Bangladesh shares most of its border with India.
This has helped curb border killing, the officials say.
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A director general-level meeting between BGB and BSF took place in February at Pilkhana. The issue of the shooting of unarmed Bangladeshis, injuring or killing or their abduction along the border was prioritized.
The last meeting on border problems took place on December 24. Thirty-three parliament members from bordering areas were present at the meeting which discussed, among other topics, border killing and drug smuggling.
Md Dabirul Islam, the MP from Thakurgaon 2 constituency, said he had forwarded a number of proposals to curb border killings and smuggling.
Most deaths along the border were related to cattle smuggling, the MP said, adding: “Border killing will go down if an arrangement can be made to bring cattle from India through legal corridors.”
The idea of legalizing cattle trade has been around for many years. However, the sheer economics of the trade had made it impossible to stop cattle smuggling.
Although the number of cattle smuggled from India to Bangladesh is unclear, the Hindustan Times in a report in July estimated the trade to be worth around Tk6,250 crore annually.
In the December 24 meeting, Iqbalur Rahim, the MP from Dinajpur 3 constituency, said the number of border deaths had come down.
To stop smuggling, he proposed taking more effective measures such as constructing border roads, erecting barbed-wire fence, installing CCTV cameras and creating alternative employment for the smugglers.
“We have to strengthen our relationship with the BSF,” he said. “In the previous DG-level meeting, both parties have been told to remain alert to avert untoward incidents.
“The BSF will take action whenever the border law is violated. It is not just about cattle smuggling. We must raise awareness [about maintaining border laws]. Only one person has been killed along the Dinajpur border in the last two years.”
Kurigram Phulbari Upazila Sadar Union Chairman Harun-Ur-Rashid said: “In most cases the traders from India cut the fence wires, and create a route for cattle smuggling.
“The shepherds from Bangladesh get killed while smuggling those cattle, and the main traders from both the countries remain out of reach.”
Emphasizing the need for creating awareness about border killing, he said: “If we are able to create employment at the border belts then the shepherds will not engage in such risky work [cattle smuggling], and the number of border killings will come down.”
Shirin Akhter, Feni 1 constituency MP, said the proposal she had forwarded was based on the political point of view.
“It is very important to maintain friendly ties with our neighbouring countries. Our relationship with Myanmar is still intact even after such a big incident [the Rohingya influx],” she said.
“Both sides have to be cordial to solve problems whenever they arise. They must sit for talks,” Shirin said. “Raising awareness among the people is important if we want to stop border killing. If we can do that, we will be able to prevent other crimes including smuggling.”
When asked why the border killing was continuing, BGB Rangpur regional commander and also Additional Director General Brig Gen AKM Saiful Islam said there were several reasons.
“The BSF insist that they open fire for a couple of reasons, such as whenever someone tries to cut border fence. BSF officials have to face departmental actions if they do not fire in such cases.
“Another reason is when someone attacks them. They also open fire if any untoward incident occurs during cattle smuggling.”
Saiful said the BSF did not usually open fire. “If our people are tolerant and do not behave aggressively, then they [the BSF] do not want to open fire,” he added.
The BGB official said there were good relations between the Bangladeshi and Indian border guards. “Border killings would be curbed if it continues,” he said. “We are trying to raise awareness among the people.
Advocate Abraham Lincoln, Kurigram public prosecutor and lawyer of Bangladesh side of Felani murder case, said: “First of all, our nationals should stay away from the No Man’s Land.
“If the people living in the border areas change their profession, and avoid the borders then there will be no chance of getting killed.”
Felani, 15, was shot dead by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) when she was returning home with her father from India through the Anantapur border along Phulbari upazila of Kurigram on January 7, 2011.
“Both the nations should be more tolerant, and they should respect each others’ sovereignty,” Lincoln said, adding that zero tolerance should be shown to cattle smuggling in order to bring the main culprits to justice.
He said: “Mainly the shepherds and carriers of the smugglers became victim of border killing.
“The border forces of both the countries should track down the main traders and punish them.”
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The Kurigram public prosecutor said border haats should be introduced to increase the supply of products in the area in order to bring down smuggling activities.
He also laid emphasis on destroying the internal drug business in the border areas.
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal declined to comment on government initiatives to curb border killing.
“Sixty-eight Bangladeshis were killed along the border in 2008. The number has come down to 21 in 2017. This shows that border killing is gradually going down,” he said.
The minister said increasing awareness among the people to curb killings along the border was necessary.
This article was first published on Bangla Tribune