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Larger than life: The fence, the cattle, and the killing

  • Published at 11:16 am September 19th, 2013
Larger than life: The fence, the cattle, and the killing

Bangladeshis, who have seen the life of the people along the Bangladesh-India border, opine that the 4,096.7-kilometre stretch is one of the strangest areas in the world. Bangladeshis and Indians bizarrely cohabit along the border. They also move around, farm each-other’s land, get married across the border, and smuggle drugs and cattle through the fence.

This border is one of the most heavily populated and impoverished areas in the world. It is overlapped by fifty-four rivers. Crossborder activities include fuel, wheat, sugar and rice from India to Bangladesh, illegal migration from Bangladesh to India, and human trafficking on both sides. These have been continuing for a long time.

For Bangladesh and India, the border has created quite a lot of problems between the two countries. One of the most visibly talked-about issues between Dhaka and New Delhi has been the killing of Bangladeshi people along the border.

The people who get killed the most there are cattle smugglers. India does not export cattle officially, but they come through this border. An Indian newspaper reported, citing BSF (Indian Border Security Force) sources, that cattle smuggling across this border has become an industry with an annual turnover of Rs50bn. In the period till August last year, 79,018 heads of cattle were seized by the BSF. But officials in India have admitted that the numbers seized are only the tip of the iceberg.

On the other hand, in Bangladesh, every time a cattle smuggler is killed along the border, Bangladesh media terms the dead person as “cattle trader.” It is interesting to note that there’s no “cattle trade agreement” between Dhaka and Delhi; those who provide the cattle to Bangladesh and those to receive them in Bangladesh are “smugglers.”

This is a pretty uncomfortable situation, as Bangladesh gets almost all its beef from India and India doesn’t know what to do with it other than sending it to Bangladesh, but still, the cattle flow is a problem between these two neighbours.

Now, how does the cattle get here? Pretty simple: The Indian smugglers hand them over to their Bangladeshi counterparts. Both BGB (Border Guards Bangladesh) and BSF know it, as the cattle come here, reportedly, with their help and presence. Most of the times, the cows are brought through where the border is unfenced and sometimes by rupturing the fence.

Having said that, we mustn’t miss the fact that this fence, as we understand, is extremely important to India. It’s quite interesting that with an economic status as India (a developing country), Delhi has very sincerely built the fence and is maintaining it with utmost care. This enclosure is huge and requires a lot of money to be maintained.

India had begun building it in 2006, apparently, to prevent all sorts of illegal activities to and from Bangladesh. It’s worthwhile to note that India hasn’t fenced its borders with Nepal, China, Bhutan and Myanmar, and that means it doesn’t feel the threats from those countries as it feels from Bangladesh.

The fence, an end-to-end border mark around Bangladesh, a 2.5-metre-high, concertina razorwire-cum-barbwire, partly spot-lit, partly electrified barrier was scheduled to be completed in 2012 at a cost of $1.2bn, twice the original estimate. The BSF presently patrol the fence, and they try curbing the reported infiltration from Bangladesh, movement of militants, and enhance management on the border. The fence is also meant for preventing smuggling of cattle, drugs and illegal weapons.

Now, the border guards may overlook many crimes, but when a BSF soldier spots the fence being severed by the smugglers, he has no other option to shoot at the person. By shooting at the person, the soldier tries to make the government understand that he was “alert” when the “criminals” were cutting through the fence. He does this simply to save his job; if he doesn’t shoot, according to military norms, it would imply that he didn’t do anything to secure the fence. In the process, he also kills people from both sides, but since Bangladeshi smugglers act at the receiving end, as they mostly penetrate through the fence and, consequently, get killed.

These are, to my mind, the reasons for so many Bangladeshis (and Indians) to be killed along the border, but this sequence of events hasn’t been discussed at the commanders level talks (that end in passing the bucks on the politicians) between these two countries.

It’s time they did and came to a consensus.  

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