Why are Bangladeshi ministers silent about BSF brutalities?

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Shimul Chaudhury

After the Palestine-Israel territory, the Bangladesh-India border is the second site in today’s world map to be riven with border killings. The difference is that, while the world closely watches the border killings of the former, it turns a complete blind eye to the latter. The Palestinian authority is vocal against the atrocities of the occupying Israeli forces; perhaps, that is one reason why the world gives attention to the Palestinian issue. However, the Bangladesh government is most unconcerned about the elite Indian border force BSF’s continuous brutalities and killings of its own citizens. In the past, Bangladeshi ministers made ineffective protest statements when BSF killed poor Bangladeshis, as they did not seem to have enough power to bring the Indian murderers to justice internationally. However, since the current pro-Indian Awami League government came to power in early 2009, that inaction has been compounded by ministers’ statements to defend BSF cruelties.

Hundreds of poor, defenseless Bangladeshis have been killed by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) personnel since the Sheikh Hasina government came to power. We have not heard a single meaningful protest statement from her or from any of her ministers. Conversely, we have in record many statements by them to defend the BSF criminals.

For reasons unknown to us, the Indian Nobel laureate and economist Dr. Amartya Sen has been repeatedly visiting Bangladesh since the current regime in Bangladesh came to power. He apparently seems to have been coming here to give his pearls of wisdom and avuncular advice to us. His on-and-off a la colonial intellectual presence in the soil of Bangladesh receives impressive media attention especially from the pro-India news outlets in Dhaka. Unfortunately, and to utter inconsistency with his global renown, Dr Sen has never mentioned in his speeches the killings of poor Bangladeshis by his country’s BSF in the border region. No remorse and sense of guilt for BSF barbarism! His silence tells us loudly about his implicit support for border killings.

Equally, like all Indian ministers who visited Bangladesh previously, the Indian Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde who visited Bangladesh on 28 January 2013 did not face any serious questions from Bangladesh government for his country’s continuous criminality in the border region. Since Bangladesh government does not raise this issue, BSF border killings remain under-reported in the world media. Hence, we the Bangladeshis cannot blame the world leaders for this particular suffering of ours.

When an Indian minister visits Dhaka, the usual topics on agenda for bilateral discussion are India’s interests like corridor in the name of transit and the Ulfa General Secretary Anup Chetia’s deportation to India, etc. Culturally, most Indian TV channels are aired inside Bangladesh, but not a single Bangladeshi TV channel is allowed inside India. During ministerial meetings between Bangladesh and India, this cultural unequal relation is hardly raised. Moreover, there is a huge diplomatic pressure from the rich Indian government on its poor Bangladeshi counterpart to spend a billion takas every year to celebrate the birth anniversary of an Indian Bangla litterateur. These are pressing issues for Bangladesh, which its government does not dare to raise during bilateral meetings.

Now let us focus on the issue of BSF brutalities and murderous activities in the border region and Bangladeshi ministers’ silence about them. A murder or two by BSF in the border region generally go unnoticed, as Bangladeshis are largely used to hearing about BSF atrocities and excesses and about Indian hypocrisies. However, when BSF murderous activities go overboard and the anger of ordinary Bangladeshis is too powerful to ignore, Bangladeshi ministers come to the scene not to condemn BSF murders but to defend them, which is simply an insult to the injury of the aggrieved Bangladeshi people.

The Home Minister of any country is principally responsible for ensuring the security of its people. Accordingly, the BSF atrocities were supposed to be a matter of grave concern for the Home Minister of Bangladesh. In this respect, it may be worth discussing the reactions of successive Bangladeshi home minsters regarding BSF killings of Bangladeshis.

In the aftermath of a spate of killings of poor Bangladeshis by BSF in the border region in early January 2013, on 10 January 2013 the incumbent Home Minister Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir seemed to have acted like a spokesperson of the Indian home ministry (not of Bangladesh’s home ministry) by making a false statement that India had regretted the border killings of Bangladeshis by BSF. He made this statement before any Indian official statement was issued or sent to Bangladesh government, which complicates his affiliation as a home minister. What is more, his tone was unambiguously one of condonation and not one of condemnation.

Hours after two Bangladeshi cattle traders were killed in Chapainawabganj and two more Bangladeshis were kidnapped by the BSF members in Joypurhat on Wednesday 2 January 2013, Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir made a worse statement. While the whole world knows that the poor Bangladeshi victims are always unarmed, he shamelessly implied that BSF killed them in self defence. In a similar tone, in early 2012, Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir’s predecessor Shahara Khatun showed excessive happiness over Indian authority’s repeatedly unkept, futile habitual promises of not killing Bangladeshis. India made such false promises dozens of times only to disappoint the Bangladeshi people over and over again. Surprisingly, pro-Indian media outlets in Dhaka highlight those pledges perhaps to show their gratitude to their benefactor or to ward off possible Indian acrimony if they report otherwise.

On 21 January 2012, after a wave of BSF atrocities on Bangladeshis, the Secretary General of Bangladesh Awami League and LGRD Minister Syed Ashraf played down BSF’s incessant tortures on Bangladeshi citizens and said: “Many such incidents are taking place in the bordering areas of the countries  cattle lifting, drug smuggling and many other things. Thiis is nothing new. These happened in the past, are happening now and will also happen in future” (Daily Star, Dhaka, 22 Jan 2012). Ashraf made this insensitive remark while Pranab Mukherjee (then Indian Finance Minister) was visiting Bangladesh, which amply pointed to the former’s slavish tendency and the latter’s colonial status. The Bangladeshi ministers’ silence about BSF brutalities and their ingratiating statements to please the Indian establishment deserve a proper analysis in order to unearth the actual reason for their blatant betrayal of the trust Bangladeshi people have put in them.

If we analyze one corruption incident involving the then Railway Minister of Bangladesh, SuranjitSengupta, we may arrive at a logical conclusion about Bangladeshi ministers’ act of betrayal and their sycophancy to the Indian establishment. An amount of more than 7 million Bangladeshi takas was heading towards Suranjit Sengupta’s residence in Dhaka on the night of 9 April 2012. The money was the Minister’s share of a larger amount of bribe collected from the prospective job applicants of the railway department. After making a number of self-contradictory statements, Suranjit Sengupta finally gave in to the media reports and gave up defending his character. Face to face with a tsunami of public anger and resentment towards Suranjit Sengupta and towards the government, in order to appease the public the Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina had to call him to her office and advised him to tender his resignation.

On Monday 16 April 2012, he read out his resignation in front of journalists in a press conference. However, the day after his resignation, for unstated reasons the government returned his ministerial status but not any ministry. It is widely believed that Sheikh Hasina was put under huge pressure by a big neighbouring country to restore Suranjit Sengupta’s ministerial position. For domestic and international realities and for her own alleged corruption, Sheikh Hasina is not in a position to defy any directive from that country. Since the Padma Bridge scandal has been haunting her in the shape of one Abul Hossain, Sheikh Hasina did not take the risk of inciting one possible whistleblower to expose her corruption records. The Suranjit incident made Sheikh Hasina’s vulnerability even more evident especially to her ministers.

Like Suranjit Sengupta and Syed Abul Hossain, most of Sheikh Hasina’s ministers have colossal corruption records  both reported andd un-reported. The Suranjit saga gave them a signal that, Sheikh Hasina is actually not at the helm of power in today’s Bangladesh. If the neighbouring country remains happy with them, their job is secure at least under the premiership of Sheikh Hasina. This is the main reason for their silence about BSF atrocities on Bangladeshis. This is the reason for their statements defending BSF’s murderous activities for such a long time.

The incumbent Bangladeshi ministers know very well that one day the media reportage of their corruption records will be up and running locally and globally. At that difficult time, they will badly need shelter in the neighbouring country. They also know how badly they have been treating opposition leaders and activists in the street and in parliament. With BNP and its allies in power, the current ministers of Sheikh Hasina will definitely opt for leaving the country. At that time again, India will be their safe haven. So the ministers do not want to destroy the prospect of that future possibility of having shelter in the soil of India. And this explains their dead silence about BSF killings of Bangladeshis. To them, their personal interests come first and the sufferings of ordinary Bangladeshis do not feature very prominent in their consciousness. Their occasional disingenuous patriotic statements and persistent re-telling the 1971 liberation war are simply to get votes.


Shimul Chaudhury


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