Cattle smuggling has gone down, yet killing of unarmed people continues unabated
When the death toll due to killing along the Bangladesh-India border went down in 2018, the downward trend was expected to continue. But the sharp rise in border killing in 2019 indicates the opposite.
At least 43 Bangladeshi citizens were killed by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) in 2019, a threefold increase from 14 in the previous year, according to data compiled by rights watchdog Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK).
Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), the paramilitary force in charge of Bangladesh’s border security, says the number of Bangladeshis killed by the BSF is 35, BGB Director General Major General Shafeenul Islam said at a press conference on Thursday.
ASK further said that, of the 43 Bangladeshi victims of the BSF, 37 were shot dead, while six were tortured to death.
The death toll was 24 in 2017, 31 in 2016, and 46 in 2015, according to ASK.
Despite a friendly relationship between the neigbours, as cited by top government officials on different occasions, Bangladesh has been unable to bring down the border killing, raising eyebrows at different quarters.
At different times, BGB officials have claimed that it was the cattle traders, who go across the border to smuggle cattle into Bangladesh to make some quick cash, who were victims of border killing. According to them, 95% of the deaths reported are because of it.
But the reality says otherwise.
The Bangladesh government is now almost self-sufficient in meat production, after India imposed a ban on the export of cows in 2014. Because of this, cattle import from India declined significantly.
According to BGB data, before the ban, around 2.3 million cows entered Bangladesh in 2013 during the Eid-ul-Azha festival, in which the prime ritual is to sacrifice cattle. Around the same time in 2019, only 92,000 cattle were brought in.
Top officials in the Indian government have pledged on several occasions to bring border killing down to zero and introduce non-lethal weapons at the borders. But the spike in border death toll indicates that those promises have not been kept.
It also proves that smuggling prevention is not the key reason behind border death toll.
Killing the unarmed
Eight years ago, Felani, a 15-year-old Bangladeshi girl, was shot dead by the BSF at the border when she was returning to Bangladesh with her father as her wedding had been arranged in the country. Felani and her father had been staying in New Delhi and had tried to cross the border illegally using a ladder.
A picture of her body hanging upside-down from the barbed wire border fence was published by the international media, triggering an outcry and raising questions on border security in the area.
The spotlight on border killing led some global news organizations to call the Bangladesh-India border “the most dangerous border in the world.”
Since then, Bangladesh and India have held many meetings on border casualties, but the killings have not stopped.
The last Bangladeshi citizen was killed by the BSF at the border only a day before the chiefs of two border security forces were set to hold a conference in the Indian capital.
At the press conference on Thursday, the BGB chief said border killing had been discussed at the six-day conference between BGB and BSF, which took place on December 25-30.
“We expressed our concern about the killing of Bangladeshi people by the BSF at the border areas,” he said. “We requested the BSF chief to bring down the killings.”
Speaking to Dhaka Tribune, ASK Executive Director Sheepa Hafiza said there is a formal procedure to hand people over and hold trial for them if any of them are caught at the border while trespassing.
“But the friendly relationship between the two countries and international laws do not allow extrajudicial killings in borders ignoring those procedures,” she added.
“We do not want smuggling at the borders. Those committing smuggling are low-income people and are always unarmed. They are always killed in shootings, but no justice has been served for them,” she further said.
Govt admits BSF killed 294 Bangladeshis in 10 years
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal, in July last year, told parliament that a total of 294 Bangladeshis were killed by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) along the border in the last 10 years.
He further said the BGB had been making all-out efforts to stop the border killings by BSF.
According to the statistics placed by the minister, at least 66 Bangladeshi nationals were killed along the Bangladesh-India border in 2009, 55 in 2010, 24 each in 2011 and 2012, 18 in 2013, 24 in 2014, 38 in 2015, 25 in 2016, 17 in 2017, and only 3 in 2018.
Responding to a question in parliament, the minister said BGB had taken various steps to build up confidence in people living in the border areas and the border guards of the two countries.
He said BGB had identified 328 kilometres as "sensitive areas" for setting up a surveillance system along the border.
“Modern cameras and surveillance systems will be set up gradually in these sensitive areas,” he added.