In My View
India must change its good-cop-bad-cop policy toward Bangladesh
Regardless of who says what, India played a decisive role in the independence of Bangladesh some half a century ago. Rising to the occasion courageously during that time, then Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi stood with the people of Bangladesh. Refuting these facts will amount to the denial of authentic history of the emergence of Bangladesh as an independent country.
As the occupation army of Pakistan began their murderous crackdown on the unarmed civilians on the fateful night of March 25 in 1971 in what was then East Pakistan, India opened its border to Bangladeshi people and provided shelter to millions of them for nine long months. They also provided arms and training to the freedom fighters and even militarily intervened in the final hours of the war forcing over 90,000 Pakistani soldiers to surrender.
These are historical facts; none can dispute them. These are also proud moments for both Bangladesh and India. With the surrender of the Pakistani military, the nine-month war came to a close and Bangladesh emerged as a free nation changing the atlas of South Asia. And with the defeat of the Pakistani occupation army in Bangladesh in 1971, India won yet another war against Pakistan. So, the emergence of Bangladesh as a new nation was also a victory for India.
Since then the two countries have been closest allies sharing South Asia's longest international border stretching4, 156 kilometers. Bangladesh has also been India's most reliable and trusted friend and partner for development for decades. The two countries have common position on many regional and international issues. Bangladesh is also India's largest trading partner in South Asia and the two countries have also good people-to-people bonding as well as bilateral relations.
But when it comes to the border between the two countries, India's friendship toward Bangladesh is not much noticed. The members of India's Border Security Force or BSF often treat Bangladeshi citizens extremely harshly at the border using lethal weapons as if they are from a hostile country of India. India has been pursuing this brutal policy at the Bangladesh border for decades killing hundreds of unarmed civilians without any kind of accountability.
The good-cop-bad-cop policy of India toward Bangladesh is not just perplexing; it is also extremely shocking. In Delhi, Indian government leaders always nicely talk about Bangladesh affirming and re-affirming their pledge to further strengthen their friendship with Bangladesh and improve bilateral relations between the two countries. But once again in one of the latest incidents on November 12, the trigger-happy border guards of India shot dead two more Bangladeshi citizens in India's Cooch Behar border area.
It was not an accidental killing. The border killings of Bangladeshi civilians at the hands of Indian border guards have been continuing relentlessly for decades now -- and deliberately in view of many Bangladeshi observers. Whenever they kill a Bangladeshi citizen, they call that person "a suspected smuggler."And they gave the same questionable label of "suspected smugglers" to the two Bangladeshis they shot dead on the India-Bangladesh border in Cooch Behar area on November 12.
Indian BSF should bear in mind that the Bangladeshi citizens they killed were only "suspected smugglers" in accordance with their own statement to the Indian media. They were never proven smugglers in an Indian court of law as they never got an opportunity to face trial. As per the international law as well as the law of any civilized country in the world, every criminal regardless of the gravity of their crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a legitimate court.
So, from this legal point of view, Indian border guards actually shot dead two innocent civilians of Bangladesh on November 12 and likewise all other Bangladeshis who were killed by BSF in the past were innocent even though they were labeled as "suspected smugglers." BSF claimed that they killed them in "self-defense." Even many rights groups of India will have trouble accepting the BSF argument for killing. Indian border guards were not in a fight between two equally armed forces at the India-Bangladesh border.
So, how could they argue for killing in "self-defense?" Even if we accept the BSF version of the incident at face value, could a bunch of unarmed Bangladeshi civilians or "cattle smugglers" as they were dubbed in a BSF statement fight against the heavily armed border guards of India with few "sticks and iron rods?" No levelheaded person will say yes. And secondly, why would Bangladeshi citizens do that knowing fully well that their stupid actions or adventurism could put their own lives in a grave danger?
This kind of situation could have been imagined had there been no killing of any Bangladeshi civilian at the border by Indian border guards ever in the past. But unfortunately the killing of unarmed and innocent Bangladeshis at the hands of the trigger-happy border guards of India has now become a regular phenomenon on the India-Bangladesh frontier and it has been going on unchecked for decades. In these circumstances, why would Bangladeshi civilians go even near well-armed Indian border guards with a few sticks and iron rods?
BSF claimed that a group of suspected "cattle smugglers" from Bangladesh encircled Indian border troops. They were asked to leave but didn't obey the command and at that point the BSF "fired some shots in the air in self-defense." Later, a search team of Indian guards found two bodies of Bangladeshis on the international border. Now the question that immediately stands out is this: How were two Bangladeshis shot dead while the shots were fired by BSF in the air as claimed in an official statement?
Indian border guards have the right to arrest anyone trespassing into the territory of India illegally anytime of the day and night. But instead of doing that, they engage in fighting with the so-called "cattle smugglers" from Bangladesh and kill them as reported by the media of both India and Bangladesh. These killings of unarmed civilians in contravention of due process of law are extrajudicial and a gross of violation of human rights. They are never permitted under the international law.
About ten years ago, the Human Rights Watch published a report titled "Trigger Happy" on the border killings. After the publication of that report, the Indian government announced that it would order Indian Border Security Force to use restraint and rubber bullets as a replacement for more deadly ammunition against irregular border-crossers. But unfortunately Indian border guards are still using lethal weapons killing people from time to time at the Bangladesh border displaying their disregard for human rights.
The Human Rights Watch is concerned about the continued killing of civilians along the India-Bangladesh border. "Indian government orders to border forces to exercise restraint and limit the use of live ammunition have not prevented new killings, torture and other serious abuses. The government's failure to hold security personnel accountable has led to further abuses and the harassment of very poor and vulnerable populations," noted the New York-based rights group.
The writer is a Toronto-based
journalist who also writes for the Toronto Sun as a guest columnist