World, Asia - Pacific

'Unlawful killings' along India border: Bangladeshi families seek justice

Over 1,200 Bangladeshis killed across border by Indian forces for past 2 decades, according to local human rights group

Md. Kamruzzaman  | 11.02.2021 - Update : 11.02.2021
'Unlawful killings' along India border: Bangladeshi families seek justice FILE PHOTO

DHAKA, Bangladesh

Families are at the end of their rope! They demand justice against "unlawful killings" of Bangladeshi civilians living in border areas by Indian forces for decades.

The father of two children, 28-year-old Hasinur Rahman Chand was among scores of Bangladeshi civilians killed by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF), the country's paramilitary unit guarding borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh, on charges of smuggling cattle.

He was killed last November when his wife was expecting another child.

This arbitrary killing of Chand, a resident of Bangladesh's northern border district of Kurigram, caused a furor in his village Rowmari where the deceased was considered to be a very simple man.

A local human rights group Odhikar claimed that over the last two decades more than 1,200 Bangladeshis have been killed across the border by the Indian forces, with most of them unarmed civilians.

The international rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW), in a statement released on Tuesday, also urged the Indian authorities to "investigate and prosecute" its border force's alleged killings and violations across the border.

"Chand was a shopkeeper who went fishing in a nearby river near the border with India and was shot dead by the BSF without any reason," his elder brother Abdul Hannan told Anadolu Agency.

"If my brother was a cattle smuggler or went to the border area on a dead night for other cross-border crimes that should at least be known to the village," he claimed, adding, "the BSF brutally murdered my innocent brother."

He questions: "Who will now provide a livelihood for his widow and three children?"

Hannan said: "I am the only source of income for our extended family as my 78-year-old father is unable to work. How do I run the family right now?"

Another Bangladeshi Mohammad Alamgir from Fulbaria Upazila in the northern border district of Lalmonirhat was shot dead by the BSF in 2010.

"The death of my son, who was the only source of income at that time, was a great shock and the incident destroyed my entire family," Ismael Hossain, the 75-year-old father of the deceased, told Anadolu Agency.

"My wife could not have endured the shock of our son's killing as she fell ill soon after, and died within a few days," he said.

"I can't tell you how much of a burden it is for a father to carry his son's coffin," Hossain said, adding that no friendly country could commit such an act against its neighbor.

Citing the impunity of the BSF members after frequently killing Bangladeshi nationals, he opined that if India could ensure justice against "unlawful" killings by its forces, he said: "I strongly believe that it could lessen the inhuman practice across the border."

India fails to comply with its commitments

Indian authorities defend border killings by claiming that the border forces open fire when it is "inevitable" and, in particular, when their lives are threatened during cross-border crimes.

At the end of four days of biannual talks between chiefs of Bangladeshi and Indian border security forces in the capital Dhaka last September, BSF Director General Rakesh Asthana assured that his force will take extreme care at the border to reduce civilian casualties during night surveillance.

But there has been no visible progress in curbing border killings.

Even last December, a Bangladeshi civilian was killed by the Indian forces during a five-day director general-level conference between the two countries' border forces in Guwahati, India, with one of its key focuses to avoid killings at border.

Human Rights Watch demands probe into killings

In its Tuesday statement, the HRW asked the Indian authorities to "investigate and prosecute" the alleged killings and violations across the border by its paramilitary forces.

Citing New Delhi's commitments almost a decade ago to order its border forces to use restraint and rubber bullets instead of more lethal ammunition against irregular border crossings, it said: "The BSF continues to commit abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and ill-treatment of both Indian and Bangladeshi border residents."

According to studies by various rights bodies and media reports, 2020 has been the deadliest year in terms of killings of Bangladeshi civilians along the border.

A total of 51 Bangladeshi nationals were killed by the BSF in 2020, while the forces have killed 334 Bangladeshis since 2011 and have committed other instances of severe abuse, the statement said.

"The [Indian] government's failure to hold security personnel accountable has led to further abuses and harassment of very poor and vulnerable populations," said HRW South Asia Director Meenakshi Ganguly.

Bangladesh's concern at killings shrugged off

Bangladeshi authorities also expressed concern many times over the killings of its civilians by the border forces of its neighbor that is also considered to be a historic friend.

"We have such good ties. But the border killings have stained our relationship," Bangladeshi Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said during a press briefing last December following a virtual summit between Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and her Indian counterpart Narendra Modi.

​​​​​​​The arbitrary killings have seriously damaged the otherwise historic relations between the two South Asian nations, which human rights defenders consider a "failure of the government in Dhaka."

Speaking to Anadolu Agency, Bangladeshi international relations professor Imtiaz Ahmed suggested that Bangladesh should contact Indian civil society groups and human rights activists about the border killings and push both governments to hold talks and address this serious issue.

"If Bangladesh and the Bangladeshi media are able to raise awareness among the Indian people and civil society about this humanitarian issue, it will create strong pressure on the Indian government to bring the border killings to zero," Ahmed asserted.

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