India’s Never-ending Border Disputes: The Fencing of Bangladesh

Written By: Ahmed Quraishi

In the nine years between 2001 and 2010, India border guards killed 900 poor Bangladeshi peasants. The intransigence of Indian officials sitting thousands of miles away in New Delhi is the main cause of this political and humanitarian tragedy.

Felani Khatun was 15 years old. An Indian soldier took aim at her. She was far away. She was killed on the border between India and Bangladesh. Her dress got stuck in the barbed wire. It was 6 a.m. Her dead body kept hanging on the border wall until 11 a.m. That is when India’s Border Security Force (BSF) patrol came to remove the body.


Did they know they killed an unarmed teenage girl? Wait until you read the full story.


The story of India’s border disputes with Bangladesh is bizarre by all standards of geography, history and politics. But the main cause is political intransigence on the part of the larger power, India. Indian officials have the political capital and geographic size to make the necessary deals to establish peace. Yet, it seems India thrives on battering its smaller neighbors and keeping them in a state of controlled chaos.


Many scholars argue it is unfair to blame New Delhi for the disputes. India is locked in border troubles with all its nine neighbors. But the case of Bangladesh is different. It clearly shows India bears considerable blame for instability in the region.


The border clashes between the two countries are more troubling because India helped create Bangladesh in 1971. [Short background: India unilaterally invaded Pakistan, with the help of a terror proxy militia created and trained by India, through successful PSY OPS, exploiting Pakistan’s political and linguistic fault lines, in an unprovoked invasion across international borders. A war of opportunity.]

The concept of ‘Hindu nationalism’ has worked somewhat, but is not enough. The Hindi-speaking ruling elite of New Delhi realizes this. What India needs is permanent enemies, sources of eternal evil, a concept that could further unite Indians beyond religion and state identity. This is where Bangladesh comes handy.

Considering India’s role in creating Bangladesh, relations between New Delhi and Dhaka should have been good enough to resolve border disputes. Instead, the India-Bangladesh dispute is an example of India’s inability to maintain peaceful borders with neighbors like Bangladesh that want to have good relations with India.


The border region where teenage girl Felani was killed has an interesting history that predates the independence of both countries. It goes back to the days of the Mughal emperors in India and the maharajas whose feudal holdings dotted the subcontinent.


Both countries share 4,100 km long border. It zigzags across some of the most difficult terrain on earth. It was hastily drawn by colonial power Britain in 1947 just as Pakistan and India were about to become independent. It was British diplomats and officers who did it. And just like the mess they created in Kashmir, Junagarh, and Hyderabad states in the North and West, it was no different in the East. There are about 162 border enclaves that lie on the wrong side of the India-Bangladesh border, 51 belong to India but lie inside Bangladesh, and 111 belong to Bangladesh but lie inside India.1


Dhaka and New Delhi are expected to have signed a deal to resolve this issue by July 31, 2017. But this is not where the problem ends. India has fenced nearly 70% of its border with Bangladesh. The stated Indian objective is to stop illegal Bangladeshi migration to India.


Indian Designs
But, how big of a problem this migration is? By most accounts, it is not such a huge problem, certainly not one that would force India to fence Bangladesh.


This is not a huge problem for India, but it did become one in the Indian state of Assam, where the Assamese and the Bengali ethnicities do not get along. The Assamese also have a problem with the Indians and India. Some of the Assamese are fighting India for independence. To placate them, the Indian Baboos [plural for Baboo, a civil servant in Hindi] came up with a novel idea: target the Bengali migrants from Bangladesh to show the Assamese that India protects their interests. The Indian Baboo came down from New Delhi guns blazing. India erected a fence, and boxed the Bangladeshis in from three sides. The fourth side is the sea, the Bay of Bengal, which floods every year.

 

Felani’s scream must have resonated in those open fields near the border. You can only hear chirping of birds at that time in the paddy fields. Hers must have been the scream of a scared child. The Indian soldiers in the distance were alerted by the cries of a child. They know that only poor Bangladeshi civilians cross the border. Granted they do this illegally, but the screams of a child could have forced the Indians to restrain their guns, at least this once. For the sake of a child. But they didn’t.

So, essentially, India has trapped the Bangladeshis between the fence and the sea.


Aside from the problem in the State of Assam, Bangladeshi migration is not big enough a problem for Indians to go for the drastic measure of erecting a fence on two-thirds of their border with Bangladesh. This is not the U.S.-Mexican border, where prosperity lies on one side and crime on the other. Indian regions adjoining Bangladesh are struggling with their issues of development, poverty, and distribution of resources. There is little prospect of a mass Bangladeshi migration to the Indian Dream, which remains largely confined to the make-belief world of Indian cinema, plus a handful of pockets of prosperity, mostly in the north and the northeast, where Hindi is spoken.


India’s Permanent War
The Indian fencing of Bangladesh border lays the groundwork for a permanent issue of hate between the two nations that could erupt later in war.


And this brings us to another problem in India: nationalism. Under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, religious fanatics are promoting a single Indian identity. Few outside India know that a country the size of India, ruled by minority northern Hindi-speaking upper-caste Indians, never existed in this region before. The credit for the modern Indian state goes to the British. They left behind a large political entity with dozens of ethnicities, languages, and religions. No one in the subcontinent had any extensive experience managing this type of a state. Of course, the Indians are doing just that for seven decades now, with fair results.


Since it is difficult to unite 28 Indian states (excluding Jammu & Kashmir, which is a disputed territory pending settlement in UN Security Council) by the identity of the Indian state, the Modi government is using Hindu religious extremism as a uniting factor. For purposes of image enhancement, the Indian government and media refer to this religious fanaticism by the term “Hindu nationalism”, a softer version of the term Hindu extremism.


The concept of ‘Hindu nationalism’ has worked somewhat, but is not enough. The Hindi-speaking ruling elite of New Delhi realizes this. What India needs is permanent enemies, sources of eternal evil, a concept that could further unite Indians beyond religion and state identity. This is where Bangladesh comes handy.


Bangladesh is part of what could be called the Indian Triangle of Evil: Pakistan, China and Bangladesh. The Indian Tri-Evil. The three represent sources of permanent threat in the Indian strategic doctrine. And the Indian military establishment has fought major wars in the three theaters, the only major wars India has known. India has fenced its borders with two, and is working on bolstering its border defenses with China.


‘Hate Bangladesh!’
Bangladesh is not a threat to India. But it is a handy enemy. Shooting and killing poor unarmed Bangladeshi migrants has helped placate the nation of Assam which wants out of the Indian state. So, the logic goes, if the Bangladesh Card is helpful in Assam, why not erect Bangladesh as a threat to unite other Indians? Why not use Bangladesh as part of the Pakistan-China-Bangladesh evil triangle of enemies to unite the State of India?


What supports this theory is the contempt that New Delhi has for Bangladeshis. The Indian disdain and scorn for Bangladeshis is historical, religious, and surprisingly, economic.


The arrogant Hindi-speaking ruling elite of New Delhi considers Bangladeshis easy to manipulate, and sees the Bangladeshi record in improving its economy and military as a likely future challenge to India that needs to be nipped in the bud.


The Indian arrogance is not misplaced. Between 1966 and 1972, India used the people of Bangladesh against each other with ease. It recruited many Bangladeshis in a terror militia, the Mukti Bahini, and then used them to kill other Bangladeshis. Thousands of Bangladeshis were killed at the hands of other Bangladeshis under this strategy. This success has given India confidence that it can always use and abuse Bangladesh.


Bangladeshi Felani Khatun
As India goes into negotiations to resolve the question of 162 enclaves, there is a glimmer of hope that New Delhi might apply the same reconciliatory approach to its wider issue of border management with Bangladesh. The early signs are not encouraging, though. A Human Rights Watch report accused Indian Border Security Force of killing 900 Bangladeshis between 2001 and 2010.


Felani was not one of them. She was killed a year after that report, on January 7, 2011.
Her father, Nurul Islam, belonged to South Ramkhana village in Bangladesh, located along the Indian border.


His father died due to extreme poverty when Nurul Islam was young. The area had little communication with the rest of Bangladesh. The closest population centers were across the border, in India. So, as a kid, he and his mother crossed the border into Assam in India.
Occasionally, they returned to the village to meet relatives.
Friday, January 7, 2011, was one of those days.
The well-known Bangladeshi human rights organization, Odhikar, documented the cold-blooded murder of Nurul Islam’s teenage daughter by Indian security. Here is an excerpt:


“On 7th January 2011, at approximately 6 in the morning, Nurul Islam’s daughter, 15 year old Felani Khatun, was shot and killed by the Indian BSF. According to Nurul Islam, an eye-witness to this killing, he and Felani were crossing into Bangladesh, by climbing over a barbed-wire fence using bamboo ladders, through the vacant space between number 3 and 4 S pillars, which are adjacent to the 947 main pillar of the Kitaber Kuthi Anantapur border. In order to do this they had made a deal with two Indian smugglers, namely Mosharaf Hussein and Buzrat in exchange of 3,000 Indian Rupees. While they were crossing the fence, Felani’s clothes got tangled in the barbed-wire, which frightened her and caused her to scream in panic. In quick response to her scream, the BSF on patrol opened fire at them. Felani was shot and killed, but her father managed to escape. The body of the deceased teenager hung on the fence till 11 a.m. that morning; subsequently, 5 hours later the BSF brought down Felani’s body and took it away. About 30 hours after the incident, on 8th January, 2011, following a flag meeting between the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) and the Indian BSF, Felani’s body was returned to the concerned authorities in Bangladesh. On 9th January, 2011 at about 7 in the morning the body was then sent to Kurigram District Hospital by Sub Inspector Nuruzzaman of Phulbari Police Station, for post-mortem. After completion of the postmortem at the Kurigram District Hospital, the body of the deceased was handed over to her maternal uncle Hanif Ali, by the police on the same day. At approximately 10 p.m. that night, Felani’s body was buried in the back yard of her home.”


Felani’s scream must have resonated in those open fields near the border. You can only hear chirping of birds at that time in the paddy fields. Hers must have been the scream of a scared child. The Indian soldiers in the distance were alerted by the cries of a child. They know that only poor Bangladeshi civilians cross the border. Granted they do this illegally, but the screams of a child could have forced the Indians to restrain their guns, at least this once. For the sake of a child. But they didn’t.
India shows no mercy to Bangladeshis. Felani’s story is the story of Bangladesh.

 

The author is a researcher, television host, and writer.

E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Pakistan Army Shall Protect Civil Population against Unprovoked Indian Aggression at all Costs

newspakarmyshalprtect.jpgOn the death anniversary of Kashmiri hero Burhan Wani Shaheed on July 8 when Kashmiris all over the world were protesting against Indian attrocities, Indian Army initiated unprovoked firing across LOC in Rawalakot Sector, targeting innocent civil population in village Tetrinote, Manwa, Satwal and Chaffar with mortars and rockets fire, resulting in death of 5 innocent citizens induding four women and an old man while injuring another five people including three young girls.

 

Pakistan Army befittingly responded on July 9 causing substantial losses to men and material. Two Indian Army posts firing on innocent civilians have been destroyed and four Indian soldiers killed. Pakistan Army shall protect civil population against unprovoked Indian aggression at all costs.

(PR-350/2017-ISPR July, 9, 2017)
 
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