India extended all out support to our freedom struggle in 1971 against the then Pakistani occupation forces for the fulfillment of the legitimate right of self-determination of the people of Bangladesh.
India gave shelter to an estimated 10 million refugees from the then East Pakistan, supplied arms to our freedom fighters, and trained them. They sought international support for us. We must remain grateful to them for their support.
Bangladesh and India are two neighbouring countries and have a shared history, common heritage, and linguistic and cultural ties. Both countries have a common history of struggle for freedom and liberation.
But these commonalities should not conceal the prevailing problem of the border issue, which is plaguing our bilateral relations. The Bangladesh-India border relation is multi-dimensional, and shaped by the dynamics and pattern of internal politics of the two countries.
The border problem is not confined to the issue of demarcation. It also involves issues such as cross-border smuggling, terrorist activities, border fencing, human trafficking, and illegal immigration. Above all, there is the issue of the killing of Bangladeshi people.
Bangladesh is surrounded by India on three sides. India has about 92 enclaves of Bangladesh, and 106 enclaves of India are within Bangladeshi soil. A landmark Indira-Mujib border treaty was signed between India and Bangladesh in 1972. According to the treaty, Bangladesh had handed over the Berubari to India. But India has not handed over Tin Bigha Corridor to us to this day.
The issues of border delimitation, exchange of enclaves, torture of Bangladeshi nationals in BSF camps, infiltration, occupation of Bangladeshi lands, and border killings by the BSF stand between the two Saarc countries spark unwanted events, straining amicable relations.
Notwithstanding the friendship and cooperation, the killing of Bangladeshis in the border area has sparked huge criticism of India’s violations in Bangladesh, as well as around the world. Human rights organisations at home and abroad express deep concern about BSF’s muscle-flexing upon its neighbour.
The killing of Felani Begum on January 7, 2011 on the Bangladesh-India border at the hands of the BSF had shocked the nation as well as human rights organisations. The 15-year-old unarmed Felani was shot dead and her body was left hanging for five hours on the barbed wire fence that India had raised on the 4,100km-long border. The body was later taken down by the BSF and handed over to her relatives the next day.
After strong protests at home and abroad, India decided to try Amiyo Ghosh, for killing Felani, two-and-a-half years after her death under the BSF Act by a special tribunal chaired by a BSF official. Habildar Amiyo Ghosh was allowed to go scot-free after standing trial for “unintentional killing.” It was nothing but a mockery.
India has been constructing a 4000km fence along the border without informing Bangladesh. The fence is electrified at some stretches. It is made of steel and concrete, packed with razor-wire, double-walled, and eight feet high. The reason for building the fence, said an Indian Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson, was to prevent illegal migration and terrorist infiltration.
Bangladesh and India have several border management instruments like Joint Working Group on Border, meetings of BDR-BSF high level officials twice a year, and government level discussions. When any unrest occurs in the border regions, especially between the non-civilians, flag meetings are often held between BGB and BSF.
We have many pending issues with India which need serious attention. The stalled Teesta River Agreement is an example. There are 54 shared rivers between India and Bangladesh. India sometimes unilaterally builds dams on our rivers and deprives us of our rightful share of water. We need solutions on the sharing of the Teesta river water, a ratification of the land boundary agreement, and an end to the killings of Bangladeshi nationals at the border.
We may also look at the Ain O Salish Kendra (ASK) Overview of Human Rights Violations in 2013 – Bangladesh. Since January, 26 people were killed by the BSF – 12 were shot, 14 were tortured to death. 84 people were injured, and 175 people were abducted. 49 were brought back by the BGB, but 126 went missing.
India has land borders with Pakistan, China, and Nepal as well. But border forces there are not killing people like in the Bangladesh border. What prompted them to do such a heinous crime? It is totally a violation of national law, international law, and above all, human rights.
The government failed to protest these atrocities vehemently in order to save nationals. Why is our government so ambivalent about these atrocities?
We have observed that issues concerning Bangladesh always get low priority from India due to the bureaucratic tangle of New Delhi. But we must not forget that the ultimate responsibility rests on the government of India to facilitate a smooth implementation of outstanding issues quickly.
The border crisis reflects the hegemonic attitude of a big neighbour to its small counterpart. It seems that India is trying to stretch its hegemony over Bangladesh, like Bhutan or Nepal. It is a fact that Bangladesh has now become a killing field of India.
India, as a big and powerful neighbour, should play a greater role in dispelling mistrust and suspicion in our bilateral relations. But we are seeing a totally different attitude from India.