Eighteen unarmed Bangladeshis were reportedly killed by the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) along the Indo-Bangladesh border in the last three months. Furthermore, BSF had killed one Bangladeshi on April 23 and two on April 11 at the Jessore borders.
At the last February meeting in New Delhi, Bangladesh Home Secretary raised the issue with his Indian counterpart to halt the killings. In 2014, the BSF killed 35 Bangladeshis, up from the previous year’s 29, according to the Bangladesh human rights watchdog, Odhikar.
It may be recalled that the Prime Ministers of Bangladesh and India in paragraph 18 of the Joint Communique of January 13, 2010 agreed that “respective border guarding forces exercise restraint…and prevent loss of lives.”
Since the flourishing of the illegal trade of cattle, involving $500 million annually for beneficiaries of both sides of the border, most of the dead are found to be the unarmed cattle traders from Bangladesh. According to official statistics, around 1.7 million cattle were smuggled to Bangladesh from India in 2014 to meet the gap between supply and demand in Bangladesh.
However while visiting border areas of West Bengal-Bangladesh, the Union Home Minister of India Rajnath Singh reportedly said on April 1 that there was no such thing as a “non-lethal strategy” in place for BSF. “You further intensify your watch so cattle smuggling stops completely and prices shoot up 70 to 80 percent more so that people of Bangladesh give up eating beef,” he reportedly said.
The smuggled cattle to Bangladesh are brought from far flung Indian states like Haryana, Maharashtra and Rajasthan. By the time a cow reaches West Bengal, its price goes up to Rs.15, 000 from Rs.5,000 in those states. Finally, it is sold at Rs.40,000. Thus, it shows that Indian sellers make huge profits from such trades.
While talking about the technique of the illegal cattle trade, a BSF official has reportedly said that a boy from nearby areas of the border is first sent from Bangladesh. When the boy gives the green signal, illegal traders from both sides rush toward the fence. The Indian traders come with about a dozen heads of cattle. One by one, the animals are hung on improvised bamboo cranes and sent across to the Bangladesh side within a few minutes.
It is reported by cattle smugglers that police, customs, border security guards and even local politicians are involved because of the big bucks in the illegal trade. Many Bangladeshi nationals are killed when they apparently fail to bribe the border officials including the security guards.
A renewed thrust by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) is to ban cattle trade from India. Prakash Sharma, the national spokesman of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, reportedly stated, “India should basically be a milk-selling country, not meat-exporting.” He further observed, “Cows have a special place in our hearts, we are against any kind of slaughter.”
It is reported that India has been the world’s fifth-largest consumer and second-largest exporter of beef in the world with 20 percent market share after Brazil. India reportedly earned Rs. 26,458 crore in 2014.
Critics of BJP warn that the beef ban will cost jobs and harm its economy. The chief minister of Goa has refused to back the ban, saying that around 40 percent of people there eat beef and he respected the rights of minorities. “Is the government going to tell us what we can eat and what we cannot eat? We’ve been eating beef for generations. It’s like telling people they can’t eat sugar. This ban won’t work,” said Danish Qureshi, a young trader of beef in UP.
The best way to halt the border killings of cattle traders is to legalise either cattle trade or export of beef to Bangladesh. Veteran journalist Subir Bhaumik stated that one former director general of the Indian Border Security Force (Ashis Mitra) had made suggestions about legalising the cattle trade so that the border guards could concentrate on checking the inflow of more dangerous contrabands like drugs and weapons.
Finally, the people of Bangladesh are surprised at the insensitivity of the Modi government toward the killings of Bangladeshi nationals. The New Delhi government may realise that if the border killings continue, the Bangladesh government will be put into great political difficulty in its efforts in further strengthening its partnership with India. A mutually acceptable solution on this sensitive issue is the call of the day.
The writer is Former Bangladesh Ambassador to the UN, Geneva.