"The BSF shoots Bangladeshi youth dead along the Sathkhira border" was the headline in The Dhaka Tribune on July 12, 2021.
"Bangladeshis shot dead by the BSF (Border Security Force) near Lalmonirhat border: Families still waiting for the bodies." This was the headline of Bangladesh's leading daily The Daily Star on September 26, 2021.
Headlines such as these are a regular occurrence in Bangladeshi media.
In a major international border-related move, India has increased the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force (BSF), empowering its officers to make arrests, search, and seizures up to an area of 50 km in its states that share borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh.
India claims that the move is meant to "improve the BSF's operational efficiency" and "crackdown on smuggling rackets", drawing sharp criticism from the West Bengal and Punjab ministers. But I think, amidst these, the Indian government has given a license to the BSF to kill more people in the name of national security.
For example, let's talk about Bangladesh. A Bangladeshi man was shot dead by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) at the Dantbhanga border in Roumari Upazila of Kurigram. The murder took place last month. A few days ago, the BSF shot dead two Bangladeshi youth at the Burimari border in Patgram Upazila of Lalmonirhat. On July 14, another Bangladeshi was shot dead by the BSF at the Lohakuchi border in the same district. The killing of Bangladeshis by firing for negligent reasons or for no reasons at all has become a habit for the BSF.
The Bangladesh-India border is considered to be the most dangerous one in the world. This is because of the reckless behavior and role of the BSF. There have also been comments in the international media that BSF members are using Bangladeshis as targets for target practice.
The BSF's offensive activities do not provide much security to the lives, property, and dignity of the Bangladeshi citizens on the border. They are always terrified of the BSF's terror. Discussions centering around not using deadly weapons on the border and reduction of killings to zero have been discussed at various levels apart from among the border guards of the two countries. India has repeatedly promised that no deadly weapons will be used at the border and that killings will be reduced to zero. But India did not show any goodwill in keeping these promises. Statistics show that 1,238 Bangladeshis have been killed by the BSF in the last two decades. In 2020, the BSF killed 46 Bangladeshis, according to a human rights organization, the Law and Arbitration Center. At the same time, 48 people were picked up, but no trace of them was found. In the previous year, in 2019, 43 people were killed by the BSF.
Is the life of Bangladeshis so cheap that the BSF will take it whenever it wants?
It goes without saying that India's promise has turned out to be a deception. Many claims that Bangladesh-India relations are a role model in the world in terms of bilateral relations. Not only that but it is also claimed that the relations between the two countries are the most developed, the most cordial so far. Then why is there this fragile situation on the border, this aggression, this relentless killing of Bangladeshis? Indian authorities should think and consider this cordially. According to some observers, the reason lies in the mindset of Indian security agencies to Bangladesh. They should respect the sovereignty of Bangladesh and the Bangladeshi people.
India has obtained all it demanded from Bangladesh. Whatever India has wanted, Bangladesh has given unconditionally. But India doesn't want to return the favor. Bangladesh is not the only country to have a border with India. Several other countries have borders with India. However, the borders of those countries are calm and stable. The Indian border guards do not shoot at those borders, do not kill people, do not infiltrate, and do not loot.
One of the reasons why Bangladesh is an exception may be that India and the BSF do not have due respect for the sovereignty and citizens of Bangladesh. Occasional tensions, shootings, and even casualties are reported on the Pakistan border or the China border. Of course, it is never one-sided. The Indian border guards respect and fear the Pakistani and Chinese border guards. That is why it is always restrained and avoids conflict.
In the case of Bangladesh, the Indian policy of not valuing the sovereignty of Bangladesh is clearly behind the BSF's chauvinism.
The killing of Bangladeshis on the border is an attack on the sovereignty of Bangladesh. Had India had any respect for Bangladesh's independence and sovereignty, the BSF would never have dared to shoot at Bangladeshis.
In this regard, the international community should give utmost importance to the issue. The border must be made peaceful and secure. No more concessions can be made in this regard.
*The writer is a teacher and researcher with a Master's in International Relations. He is based in Bangladesh.