Cry Justice: Seven years of Felani killing

Reaz Ahmad
Thursday, January 11th, 2018


Come January 18 Indian Supreme Court will hear Felani killing case for the third time. In past two years the court could manage hearing the case for twice only. In the last hearing the court sought reports of previous probes carried out in this regard. The case of the death of a 15-year Bangladeshi girl, Felani Khatun, in the firing of India’s border security force (BSF) reached to this far after BSF-commissioned investigations have been exhausted. BSF repeatedly failed to find any fault of its jawan/s and their superiors.


Felani’s death and subsequent image of her upside-down body hanging on the barbwire on Indo-Bangla border fence in early 2011 hogged international news headlines. After being shot by a BSF man on Kurigram border on her homecoming from New Delhi, Felani’s body was left hanging on the barbed wire fence for over five hours in January cold. Felani was returning to Bangladesh along with her father as her marriage was arranged in the country. Felani and her father were staying in Indian capital and were trying to cross the border illegally by a ladder.


While crossing, Felani’s dress got stuck in the barbed wire of the border. Panic-stricken, she started screaming as BSF opened fire on her. After she was shot, she begged for water till her death but nobody could reach her due to fear of being shot by BSF. The main accused of the killing Amiya Ghosh and his superior officers have not been convicted to date as Felani’s parents’ long wait for justice passed yet another year and her seventh death anniversary passed in relative quietness on January 7.


That heart wrenching image of a dead juvenile was picked up by the international media and triggered an outcry along with raising questions on border security in the area. The spotlight on border killing led some global news organizations to call the Indo-Bangla border ‘the most dangerous border’ in the world. Bangladeshi lawyers had argued that even if Felani was illegally crossing the border, the BSF soldier who shot her used lethal force violating the rules of engagement and international law.


When Major General Aziz Ahmed completed his tenure as Director General of Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) in late 2016, he had expressed his dissatisfaction that in his four-year tenure he could not bring down border killings to zero.


“I will have my dissatisfaction over [border] killings. Although both [India and Bangladesh] governments have their commitments and we said repeatedly that it has been reduced. But it could not be stopped,” he told a press briefing at BGB headquarters in November, 2016. Then outgoing BGB DG had said another of his dissatisfaction was that he could not see justice in the Felani murder case.


With over 767 border killings at the hands of BSF men in past 17 years – in BGB’s reckoning – the 4,096 km porous border between Bangladesh and India appears to be one of the deadliest of peacetime borders between otherwise known as friendly neighbours in modern history. Without going into the debate on whether ‘trigger-happy’ border security men are more reckless or the so-called ‘cattle traders’ – one can well attribute the unabated border killing scenario to non-formal nature of thousands of cattle heads being crossing over to Bangladesh from India all year round. Politicians, businessmen and security personnel across the border – all have the consensus that formalizing the border trade on cows can dramatically improve the situation. But nobody seems in the mood to take a step in that direction given the religious sensitivity and political economy of the issue.


Ex-BGB DG Maj. Gen. Aziz probably couldn’t have said it any clearer and louder. He has said in late 2016 that to reduce border killings, smuggling of Indian cattle has to be stopped. In one of border security talks in recent months some lawmakers representing bordering region constituencies also came up with suggestion that illegal cattle trade must halt. Md Dabirul Islam, an MP from Thakurgaon 2 constituency, suggested that border killing would go down if an arrangement could be made to bring cattle from India through legal corridors.


The idea of legalizing cattle trade has been around for many years. However, the sheer economics of the trade had made it impossible to stop cattle smuggling. In 2013-16 period, BGB seized illegal goods worth over Tk. 3,015 crore and arrested 1,577 persons in connection with smuggling. On average, the worth of goods seized a year stands at less than Tk. 800 crore whereas, Hindustan Times in a July, 2017 report put the figure of yearly cross-border cattle smuggling earnings at over Tk. 6,000 crore.


I quote here from the Hindustan Times, “Border guards intercept them periodically, but cattle smugglers keep devising ingenuous techniques to send cows and bulls to Bangladesh and feed the beef and leather industry there. India shares a 4,096km border with Bangladesh and there are multiple points along this boundary – primarily in West Bengal and Assam – where cattle smugglers operate, often after dark. A cow that costs Rs 5,000 in India fetches up to Rs 50,000 in Bangladesh. The illegal cross-border trade is estimated to be worth Rs 5,000 crore a year.”


As Felani’s parents’ wait over getting justice gets longer, question comes into mind though how border guards’ firing gunshots are justified in retaliation to acts of cattle duffing. Are these high-handed actions, where lives are lost routinely, proportionate to cattle-rustling, smugglings, particularly, when the system itself is allegedly riddled with corruption? Global rights watchdog – the Human Rights Watch (HRW) stated, in one of its reports, “The abusive methods used by the BSF are disproportionate to the problems that the Indian government faces on its eastern border. Numerous ordinary Indian and Bangladeshi citizens resident in the border area end up as the victims of BSF abuses, which range from verbal abuse and intimidation to torture, beatings, and killings. Furthermore, because of the near total absence of effective accountability mechanisms for abuses carried out by members of the BSF, even the most serious abuses by border guards go unpunished.”


The writer is Executive Editor, United News of Bangladesh

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