Parbatipur, a sleepy little town near the Indian border in Bangladesh’s northern district Dinajpur, is very important.
It is important not because it is a tourist attraction or a major regional administration hub or a mining town. It is important because smugglers use this place as a depository for all kinds of goods brought over from India illegally.
Geographically, the location is very convenient – Parbatipur is just two hours by train from the border railway station at Hili Land Port.
When the Dhaka Tribune reporters arrived at the Parbatipur Railway Station around 6:30 in the morning on a fine warm autumn day recently, the place was already hustling and bustling with several hundred women.
All of them were wearing a locally made thick pullover kind of a thing although the weather was pretty warm. They were all waiting to board the Rajshahi-bound Barendra Express.
Local residents said that at least 300 people from the town, mostly women, work as middlemen and carriers of smuggled goods. In addition, another 100 “black marketers,” who have “special” arrangements with the two train services – Brendra Express and Titumir Express – so that the carriers do not face any checking.
The pullovers they had on them have secret chambers where they carry the smuggled goods. Soon they board the Barendra Express and the reporters follow them. The women are happy and excited and they discuss what they were going to bring for the day, the price of Indian goods, spices, and so on.
In two hours or so, the train reaches the Hili Railway Station, which has already made a name as a “smugglers’ haven.” The women get down from the train and in a very disciplined manner they form a single row and start walking off.
In a few minutes, the women reach an non-fenced area on the Indian border called Burir Bagan, cross the border and reach the Hili area in South Dinajpur of India.
They come back after two hours – all looking fatter – and start waiting for another train coming from the opposite direction to take them back to Parbatipur.
“There are at least 50 houses owned by the Indian mahajans [traders] just beside the border. Some of these houses are as close as 10 meters from the Hili [railway] station,” one of the carriers said while talking to the Dhaka Tribune.
Their job is to go to these houses, collect the smuggled goods, carry them inside the secret chambers in their improvised pullovers, board a train and come back and deliver the consignments in Parbatipur.
The carrier said she does not have to worry about payments because the smuggling ring leaders take care of that part of the deal.
“You can get everything. At this time, spices and fertilisers are high on demand. But the demand changes every week,” she said.
“The Indian mahajans deal with the BSF [Border Security Force]. Each of us just have to pay Tk100 tokens to BGB and railway officials,” she continued.
They wait at the Hili Railway Station until afternoon when the announcement comes that a train that would take them back to Parbatipur would arrive in a few minutes.
When the train arrives, there are BGB personnels inside. When the women get on to the train, the BGB men start searching the compartments for illegal goods.
Interestingly, they do not find anything suspicious in there. By 4 o’clock in the afternoon, the carriers come back to Parbatipur by train.
Wishing not to be named, a black marketer said: “There are several places in the town where the smuggled goods are stacked.
“You will not find any of the smuggled goods here. Rather, you will find them in the shops and stores in Dinajpur and Syedpur towns. Parbatipur is just the depository. Goods are sent across the country from Dinajpur and Syedpur.”
Most black marketers or middlemen live in the Rustamnagar, Fakirtola and Kulipara areas in Parbatipur town.
“Apart from Parbatipur, some of us also live in Joypurhat district town, Panchbibi, Hili and Phulbari areas,” he said.
Based on information given by local residents, the Dhaka Tribune reporters visited the office of a local leader of the ruling party and found a huge stack of smuggled Indian goods, including spices, there.
“The carriers hand over the goods to their bosses or the black marketers. The black marketers store the goods in a warehouses, including this one [the one owned by the ruling party leader]. From these warehouses, the goods are sent to Dinajpur and Syedpur for dispatching.
“From police to BGB to railway stuff, everyone are involved in the business. So, nobody can ever stop the illegal trade here,” the black marketer added.
When contacted, Ruhul Amin, chief of Dinajpur district police, said: “The Indian border in Dinajpur is 147km in length. So, the level of smuggling in this area is higher than any other districts.”
He said this can be curbed if people from all walks of life cooperates with law enforcers.
“We need better coordination among the forces such as BGB, RAB, the Narcotics control department. Only then we will be able to bring the smugglers down,” the police super said.