Sunday, May 01, 2005

A Fact Finding Report from Odhikar


Masood Alam Ragib Ahsan, Director, Odhikar

At around five thirty in the afternoon of 16 April 2005, approximately 12 members of the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) entered 300 yards into Bangladesh, crossing pillar number 2022- 3H at the zero point of the Bangladesh-India border at Hirapur in Brahmanbaria. When in Hirapur, they began a search of the village. Joining them in their search were approximately 100 Indian nationals who had crossed in from the Lankamura border area in Agortola, Tripura. The search party ransacked several houses in the Bangladeshi village of Hirapur, causing panic among the residents, several of whom fled with the news to the near by Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) camp at Fakirmura. When the BDR personnel approached the village, bullets fired by the BSF greeted them. The BDR fired back in reply, killing Assistant Commandant Jibon Kumar and injuring Constable K.K. Surender, both belonging to the BSF. 10-year-old Nahid Akhtar of Boro Kuripaika village was killed when the BSF opened fire.

BOP Commander, Nayek Subedar Dipak Kumar of the BDR camp at Fakirmura told Odhikar that on 16 April 2005, an Indian national called Ramdhon Pal entered Bangladesh with 20 bottles of banned Phensydil and 60 Indian rupees. On his arrest by the BDR it was found that he was a smuggler, who used the Lankamura-Hirapur border crossing to enter and leave Bangladesh. According to Dipak Kumar, the assault of Hirapur village by the BSF and civilian Indians was aimed at retrieving him. The BSF were pressurising the BDR to release Ramdhon Pal, but the latter refused to do so without authorisation from their superiors and told the concerned BSF officers that this sort of request required an official letter and a flag meeting between the two parties. Dipak Kumar further stated that the BSF occasionally entered into Bangladesh whenever the fancy struck and randomly fired. They stated that the BSF needed no official permission to fire their weapons. There are, however, no records of BDR personnel entering India or randomly firing their weapons.

Odhikar also interviewed residents of Hirapur village. Mohammad Ismael of the village echoed Dipak Kumar’s statement that the assault had been carried out in retaliation to the arrest of the smuggler Ramdhon Pal. He said that some of the villagers had initially tried to fight back to protect the village but the Indians were too strong and when they were joined by the BSF, the villagers fled. On finding a near-empty village, the invaders began ransacking homes. Ismael said that his home and the home of his five brothers were looted of money, gold ornaments, electronics and even six cows. His pregnant wife was also injured, and she was later taken to the local health complex. The Indians took away 2 goats and some chickens from the home of rickshaw-puller Khalilur Rahman. His home was also ransacked.

Umeda Khatun, a widow, told Odhikar that her home was entered into and the invaders broke her cupboard and took away money and gold ornaments. They also took her television. When she tried to stop them, they assaulted her. Umeda said that after she lost her husband, she had to sell what little land they had owned to educate her younger son and send him abroad. Her elder son, Humayun, is a farmer. Whatever little she had been able to keep, the Indian rioters either broke or took away. She confirmed that when the BDR came to the village, exchange of fire took place between them and the BSF. She said that the bullets rained on the village and she fell to the floor of her home to avoid being hit. Many villagers fled towards the town to escape the crossfire and a lot of homes were hit.

Nasreen Begum, the mother of the deceased child, Nahid Akhtar, told Odhikar that her daughter had been playing in the yard behind the house, which was about a kilometre away from where the BDR and BSF were firing at each other. The residents could hear the shots, but did not know what was happening. Suddenly, Nahid stumbled home clutching her little chest, and fell on the floor. At first, her family did not know what had happened to her. By the time they realised that she had been shot, Nasreen, a student of class three, was dead.

On 17 April 2005, after the incident, the BSF proposed a flag meeting. Commanding Officer of the Seventh Rifle Battalion, Lieutenant Col. Kamruzzaman of the BDR and Commandant Mrittunjoye Kumar of the 131 Branch of the BSF attended the meeting. Odhikar also met with Lt. Col Kamruzzaman, who said that even though the BSF admitted that the body of Jibon Kumar and the injured K.K. Surender were recovered from Bangladesh, they began blaming the BDR, stating that BDR personnel had entered into India through Lankamura in order to arrest the smuggler Ramdhon Pal and when the BSF started to chase them, they ran back into Bangladesh. This is not humanly possible, since to enter Lankamura, one has to cross two large hills and cut his way through a strong barbed wire fence. At the meeting, the BDR expressed their condolences over the death of Jibon Kumar and also stated that the death of an innocent child was also a great tragedy.

The body of Jibon Kumar and the person of injured K.K. Surender were handed over to the BSF at the flag meeting. At the request of the BSF, no post mortem was done by the BDR, who had retrieved the body from the village at around one in the morning of 17th April. The BSF also requested the BDR to recover and hand over the 5.56mm rifle, 3 magazines and the wireless set belonging to K.K. Surender. At the flag meeting, the BSF accused the BDR of arresting the smuggler Pal from the Indian border. In retaliation, the BDR stated that the BSF had arrested Bangladeshi nationals Kamal Mia (32) on 13 April 2005 and Jitu Mia (16) on 16 April.

Lt. Col. Kamruzzaman told Odhikar that the arrogant and intimidating attitude of members of the BSF was very common. He also said that the BSF is now erecting a barbed wire fence 150 yards into the legally stipulated ‘no mans land’, violating international law. Apparently they had been warned not to do so, but to no avail. There had even been some skirmished between the BDF and NDR over this barrier, the most recent one being on 16 February 2005. The BSF has already completed erecting 44.66 kilometres of this 73-kilometre fence, with authorisation from the Indian Government and senior BSF officers.

According to Col. Jahangir Alam, commander of the Commilla sector BDR, the relationship between the BSF and BDR is cordial at the officer-level. Both Bangladeshi and Indian nationals cross the border, and smuggling is common. If a petty offender is apprehended he is usually handed over at a flag meeting. He admitted that the incident that took place on 16 April was very serious and that the BSF wanted to forcefully take back Ramdhon Pal. At the flag meeting that was held after the incident, Col. Jahangir Alam stated that even though the Indian side (BSF) admitted to the recovery of K.K. Surender from 250 yards inside the Bangladeshi border, they accused the BDR of arresting Ramdhon Pal from within the Indian border, and wrote a statement to that effect, stating that Ramdhon Pal was grazing cattle and goats when the BDR arrested him. According to the BDR, Ramdhon Pal was arrested inside Bangladesh on 16 April, at around 3:30 in the afternoon with Phensydil and Indian currency in his possession. On the morning of the same day, another Indian national, Anil Kumar was arrested for smuggling as well. However, the BSF made no statement regarding Anil Kumar. Their sole focus was on Ramdhon Pal. According to Col. Jahangir Alam, this is proof that the attack on the village was pre-planned.

At the flag meeting, the BSF were asked why they had illegally entered Bangladesh with weapons. In reply, the BSF allegedly stated that they did not know that the BDR would fire at them as soon as they entered Bangladeshi territory and that they had entered to negotiate the release of Ramdhon Pal. However, there is a standard procedure for requesting such releases, that both sides are aware of. This sort of entry does not at all fall into the category of standard procedure.

After the incident, both India and Bangladesh have strengthened their border security. The Indian side has deployed a lot of heavy artillery and weapons as well as extra deployments. The border areas are still in a state of high alert.


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