2021 witnessed 10 extrajudicial killings and 19 incidents of torture and molestation by Border Security Force and Central Industrial Security Force personnel in West Bengal’s Cooch Behar, Murshidabad, Nadia, and North 24 Parganas districts. The victims were Muslims, Dalits, and OBCs including women and children.
Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), a rights group in Bengal, claimed that they have filed complaints on 19 incidents of torture by BSF in these four districts. The highest numbers of cases -13, were recorded from Cooch Behar, followed by 3 from North 24 Parganas, 2 from Murshidabad, and 1 from Nadia.
“People residing at Indo-Bangladesh border villages are subjected to severe human rights violation including imposed restrictions, brutal tortures, and even executions by the men in uniform,” read MASUM report.
Six men were killed by Border Security Force personnel in 2021, according to MASUM. Four of them were Cooch Behar while one was from Murshidabad and another was from North 24 Parganas.
The killed were Samser Pramanick, Allaudin Gazi, Prakash Barman, Lutfar Rahman, Jaydul Haque, and Bharat Mondal.
While all were killed in firing, Mondal was tortured to death in custody.
Generally, from extremely poor economic backgrounds, these villagers often restore to cross border cattle smuggling in order to generate some extra income for sustaining their families. In almost all the cases, the victims were either cattle rattlers or were killed on the suspicion of being one.
In a violent turn to the Assembly elections in West Bengal in 2021 April, four Muslims, including an 18-year-old, were killed in firing by Central Industrial Security Force personnel at a polling station in Sitalkuchi in Cooch Behar district where voting was underway for the fourth phase.
The killed were Hamidul Mian (31), Monirujjaman Mian (28), Noor Alam Mian (20), and Samiul Haq (18), all from Jorpatki village. The first three were migrant workers who had returned home to vote while the fourth worked at a cyber cafe in the village.
In most of the cases, police had taken no action and in 8 complaints, the police officers refused to lodge FIR, says MASUM.
In four cases, women were molested by male BSF personnel.
“It is apparent from the cases that torture is used as an instrument to discriminate against and intimidate minorities while also taking undue advantage of their vulnerability,” the rights group alleges.
MASUM’s annual report narrates incidents of torture by India’s border guarding organisation.
Jerina Mondal, a Dalit woman ( name changed) was tortured and molested by male BSF officers while she was returning to her home. Another Dalit woman Srijani Haldar (name changed) went to Bhimpur police station to complain following she was sexually harassed by BSF men. The FIR was only registered after a week from lodging the complaint. More than 10 months have passed but no probe has been initiated by the cops so far.
Rahela Bibi, a widow Muslim woman who is a resident of Char Parashpur village in Murshidabad, was brutally beaten up by BSF personnel when she was carrying beef for consumption, a day before Eid.
Two minor girls were also targeted by male BSF personnel. Moumita Khatun (name changed), a minor girl was assaulted and sexually harassed by the BSF Company Commandant while another girl Suraiya Parvin was restricted to going to the agriculture field and illegally detained in the BSF outpost.
“Ainal Sheikh, a young Muslim man was severely tortured in the BSF camp using horrific methods. He was also threatened against reporting the incident. Ahammad Ali was brutally beaten up by BSF after they disallowed him from using pesticides on his crops. Ainal Haque was brutally tortured for not following the unethical order of the BSF jawans to cut the ropes with which cows were barred in the field of Bangladesh side,” the report states.
Indian citizens, mostly Muslims, were falsely accused as Bangladeshi citizens and brutally tortured by BSF personnel, the report said.
Dil Ajmali and his mother were targeted by the BSF officers after they were called “Bangladeshis.”
Dipak Ator, another resident was beaten by BSF after he protested against BSF’s arbitrary actions including cutting the village road. He was targeted because he complained against BSF to the Block Development Officer and Sub Divisional Officer of Tufanganj in Cooch Behar.
In another incident, BSF men tattered a villager Sushantha Barman’s body with a knife. He was critically injured and shifted to the hospital.
MASUM alleged that in most cases of torture, the people who tried intervening in order to prevent the violence, including the kin of victims and Panchayat members were threatened by BSF.
“The BSF tortured victims on random suspicious of smuggling or aiding smugglers, for selling, eating or carrying beef, for not possessing identity documents, for questioning or complaining against the BSF and mostly they act merely on their whims,” read MASUM’s report.
In 2021, two Muslims Asidual Mia of Satkorpatti village and Faridul Mohamad of Cooch Behar were injured in bullet firing by Border Security Force personnel.
18-year-old student Faridul was returning from tuition classes. He was stopped by BSF personnel and thrashed by them. The BSF personnel attached with BSF outpost 148 Battalion, fired pellet shots at him.
“People are to be tortured”
In November, The West Bengal government passed a resolution against the Union government’s decision to extend the Border Security Force’s jurisdiction in the state. The resolution was passed with 112 MLAs voting in favour and 63 opposing it.
The Ministry of Home Affairs on 11 October 2021 had announced that the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force (BSF) would be extended up to a 50 km stretch from the International Border in Punjab, West Bengal and Assam. By virtue of this new order, BSF can now conduct search, seizure and arrest up to 50 km which was previously 15 km in the above-mentioned states.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had issued a letter to the Prime Minister demanding the withdrawal of the order, stating “The State Police is well equipped and is better placed than the BSF to promptly respond to any situation in the areas affected by the Notification.”
“In the garb of extending BSF jurisdiction, people are to be tortured,” she claimed.
Maktoob’s report dated 28 October 2021 on BSF jurisdiction extension in West Bengal narrated the responses and concerns of political observers, rights activists, and the common people in the state.
Speaking to Maktoob, Kirity Roy, head of MASUM and a civil rights activist said, “The populace residing in the border area is mainly Muslim OBC, Hindu Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe, who have been tortured in the last 10 years by the hand of BSF”.
“Full jurisdiction over districts such as Malda and Murshidabad that predominantly has Muslim demography, put them under threat,” Dr Mohammad Reyaz, a political observer told Maktoob. “There also have been allegations against BSF officers in West Bengal getting bribed for cattle smuggling and arbitrarily firing at people trying to cross the border.”