Monday, 30 May 2011

Centre not serious in guarding Bangla border

GUWAHATI, May 29 – The Government of India’s attitude towards guarding the international borders in the eastern sector is not as serious as guarding the borders in the western sector, observed former Director General of the Border Security Force (BSF), Prakash Singh.
Talking to The Assam Tribune, Singh, who was in Guwahati to attend a seminar organized by the Assam Police Accountability Commission, said that the Government of India is much more serious in guarding the border with Pakistan. He pointed out that the border is guarded in a much aggressive manner in the western sector and any kind of intrusion is dealt with strongly and very often intruders are gunned down. No question is asked if any intruder is gunned down along the border with Pakistan, but that is not the case while guarding the border with Bangladesh, he added.
Singh said that India is much softer in matters of guarding the international border with Bangladesh and an aggressive posture like the one adopted while guarding the border with Pakistan is not adopted along the Indo-Bangla border. If an intruder gets killed along the border with Bangladesh, there are protests in the neighbouring country and India, on its part, also adopts a soft attitude. Such attitude of the Government percolate down to the men involved in guarding the border and they also try to avoid any casualties, he pointed out.
The former BSF DG said that India's attitude towards the border with Bangladesh is that the intruders should be pushed back but that is not an easy proposition and the task becomes more difficult as the fencing along the border is yet to come up in most parts of the border with Bangladesh. He said that the border fencing should be completed as soon as possible and there is lot of room for improvement of the infrastructure.
Singh said that though the new Prime Minister of Bangladesh is cooperative towards India, the issue of illegal migration is yet to be dealt with seriously. He pointed out that the new Government in Bangladesh cooperated with India on the issue of dealing with insurgents , but on the issue of illegal migration, the Government of the neighbouring country is yet to take any step. On its part, the Government of India has also not been able to take up the issue seriously with the Government of Bangladesh. He wondered whether the Government of India is serious on the issue of presence of large number of Bangladeshi migrants in the country. "I feel very sad about the state of affairs being a former head of the BSF," he admitted.
The former BSF DG , who is well versed with the situation in the North East, expressed the view that a comprehensive policy for dealing with the problems of the region should be adopted by the Government of India. At present, the Government of India is only adopting ad hoc measures to deal with the problems of the region, he added.

Smuggling Everything From Cough Syrup to Sex

MURSHIDABAD, West Bengal, India, May 8, 2011 (IPS) - Sakina Bibi is a sex worker in the red light area of Kalabagan in Murshidabad, a border district in the eastern Indian state of West Bengal where everything from cattle to electronic goods, from rice and sugar to cough syrup, and women, are being smuggled.

Sakina Bibi (not her real name) is a Bangladeshi citizen who managed to cross over with the help of a "lineman", one of many who run a lucrative business smuggling people into India.

"I used to smuggle saris from India," said Sakina, who was abandoned by her husband and had to care for two children. She lost her earnings to sentries of the Border Security Force (BSF) who harassed her often, she said. To pay her debts, she turned to selling sexual favours.

Livelihood is a constant struggle in Murshidabad, a district that borders Bangladesh. The Indo- Bangladesh border runs over 4,000 kilometres, more than half of which lies with West Bengal.

In 1994, the Indian government started building the border fence - a decision reached in 1986 - to curb smuggling and human trafficking. But over many stretches, the river gets in the way, and only some concrete posts serve as border markers.

In reality, the fence is a mere geographical line that tries but fails to divide people who are culturally and socially alike, though politically separated after 1947 when the Indian sub-continent split into two, India and Pakistan. Bangladesh was later carved out of East Pakistan.

The matter gets more complex: some Indian farmers own land beyond the fence, practically creating an Indian enclave within Bangladesh; the same is true of Bangladeshi enclaves within India. According to a recent report in the Times of India, the two countries have broadly agreed to exchange each other’s enclaves by the end of this year. There are 92 Bangladeshi enclaves in India and 106 Indian enclaves on the other side.

A porous border, a common language (Bengali) and easy access to both sides make smuggling rampant and keeping tabs on such activities a daunting task for Indian forces. Some allege that unscrupulous sections of the border force are sometimes hand-in-glove with smugglers.

"For example, cattle smuggling from India to Bangladesh. How can it be possible to move such huge numbers of animals without the knowledge of soldiers at the border?" asked an activist who declined to be named.

Abdul Sheikh (not his real name), a 27-year-old Bangladeshi, confided to IPS, "I used to be a cattle smuggler, taking herds of cows to Dhaka (capital of Bangladesh) from the Indian side."

Sheikh said he knows of others still smuggling cattle. "People on both sides of the border helped us. Many people in the border villages have corrals to keep the cows till a herd is formed. Now I’ve left this work as I was double-crossed by some people and live here in Bengal."

Cattle smuggling is big-time. Lower on the rung are commodities like rice, sugar, electronic goods, urea fertiliser, and a cough syrup called Phensedyl, very much in demand for its sedative properties. Women and children are widely used as carriers.

An officer at BSF told IPS on condition of anonymity that a "card" system is being introduced to identify people who live in Indian enclaves. The card will bear an approximate amount of rice that could be needed weekly so that extra rice does not go beyond the enclave.

The officer also said rice smuggling in places like Jalangi border at Murshidabad has drastically gone down. Still, women and children carrying rice continue to flock to the Taltali ferry port, riding bicycles or trudging over the sandbank created in the dry winter. Whether that rice is legitimate ration for people living in an Indian enclave or going to be sold illegally is anybody’s guess.

Local NGOs who work on child rights like Suprava Panchashila Mahila Uddyog Samity in Berhampore, its district headquarters, say smugglers often use women and children as conduits. Suprava director Shoma Bhowmick says, "While it’s a year-long activity, during monsoon it’s easier for smugglers. Hence you’ll see children being absent from class more during the monsoon months.

"A common excuse is, of course, inability to come to school due to the weather. The fact is that as the river water rises, the boatmen find it easier to come up to the banks and help women and children to take along the smuggled goods," she added.

Women are unlikely to be searched at the BSF gates because of the absence of women soldiers. Only in 2009 were women allowed into the force and deployed in Punjab along the border with Pakistan, and West Bengal. Still, few battalions in the border areas have women soldiers at the moment.

A woman hiding Phensedyl in the folds of a sari can pass off as pregnant. Children, when caught, are often let off. As a BSF officer told IPS, "If I throw this kid into a jail, even a shelter home, his life will be spoiled forever and his education stopped. So we let go."

Smuggling rackets often take advantage of such lenient views. An eyewitness told IPS, "When evening sets in they simply throw the bottles (of Phensedyl) across the fence which is not very high, around 2.5 metres. The contact person on the other side just has to collect them." 

An officer of a battalion manning the border said, "There’s huge pressure on us to stop smuggling. We wonder why something can’t be done at the source. For example, Phensedyl is supplied from Kolkata, nearby Karimpur, Nadia district, etc. which is well known. We are short staffed and this border is not like any other. Here a human element is involved." (END)

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

A historical short note on plight of Bengali Hindu

Bengali Hindus are an ethno-linguistic group, belonging to the Indo-Aryan family and are native to the Bengal region of the Indian Subcontinent. The Bengali Hindus along with other related ethno-linguistic groups constitute the Hindu ethnicity. Bengali Hindus speak Bengali, which is classified as a part of the Indo-Aryan language family and adhere to the Shakta and Vaishnava traditions of their native religion Hinduism.
The Bengali Hindu people belong to the broader Hindu people. In Bengali, the Bengali Hindus are described as jati meaning an ethnic group or a nation, that form an inseparable part of the Hindu mahajati or great nation. The Bengali Hindus constitute of the constituent ethnic groups of the Hindu nation.
In India, they tend to identify themselves as Bengalis while in Bangladesh they tend to identify themselves as Hindus. In the global context, the terms Indian Bengali and Bangladeshi Hindu are respectively used. In IndiaBengali generally refers to Bengali Hindus, a notion widely accepted by the other ethnic groups.

In the middle of the 8th century, the Bengali Hindu nobility democratically elected Gopala as the ruler of Gauda, a historic event that ushered an era of peace and prosperity in Bengal, ending almost a century of chaos and confusion. The Pala rulers unified Bengal into a single political entity and expanded it into an empire, conquering a major portion of North India. During this time, the Bengali Hindus excelled in art, literature, philosophy, mathematics, sciences and statecraft. The first scripture in Bengali Charyapada was composed during the Pala rule. The Pala were followed by the Senas who made far reaching changes in the social structure of Bengali Hindus, introducing 36 new castesand orthodox institutions like kulinism.

Islamic Conquest
The literary progress of the Pala and Sena period came to a halt after the Turkish conquest in the early 13th century. Except for Haridas Datta's Manasar Bhasan no significant literary work was composed for an about a century after the conquest. Even though the ruling classes resisted the invaders, Gauda, the centre of Bengal polity, fell to the Mohammedans. During this period hundreds of temples and monasteries were desecrated. The next attack on the society came from the Islamic missionaries. Local chieftains like Akananda, Dakshin Ray and Mukut Ray, resisted the missionary activities.
The Pathan occupation of Bengal was limited to the region of Gauda, the rest of which was held in sway by different Bengali Hindu rulers. In the early 15th century, the Pathan rule was overthrown by the Bengali Hindu nobility under the leadership of Ganesha. When the Mughalsinvaded Bengal, the Bengali Hindu chiefs consolidated themselves into confederacies and resisted the Mughals. After the fall of the confederacies, the Mughals a major part of Bengal and constituted a subah. Independent Bengali Hindu kingdoms like Tripura and Koch Bihar continued to maintain their sovereignty. In the middle of the 17th century, Pran Narayan the ruler of Koch Bihar invaded Mughal occupied Bengal and temporarily captured Ghoraghat and Dhaka.

Early Modern Period

After the fall of the Mughal Empire, during the reign of Alivardi Khan the inhuman taxation and frequent Maratha Empire raids made the life miserable for the ordinary Bengali Hindu people. When the oppression reached its climax under Siraj ud-Daulah, a section of the Bengali Hindu nobility actively helped the British East India Company in overthrowing the Siraj ud-Daulah regime. After obtaining the revenue rights, the East India Company imposed more oppressive taxation that led to the famine of 1770, in which approximately one third of the Bengali Hindu population died of starvation.
However, the British began to face stiff resistance in conquering the semi-independent Bengali Hindu kingdoms outside the pale of Muslim occupied Bengal. Even when their rulers have been captured or killed, the ordinary people began to carry on the fight. These resistances took the form of Bhumij (Chuar is a deragatory term used by the English to denote the Bhumij) and Paik rebellion. These warring people were later listed as criminal tribes and barred from recruitment in the Indian army. In 1766, the British troops were completely routed by the sanyasis or the warrior monks at Dinhata, where the latter resorted guerilla warfare. Bankimchandra Chatterjee's Anandamath is based on the Famine and consequential Sanyasi Revolt.

Renaissance Period

In the 19th century, the Bengali Hindu people underwent radical social reforms and rapid modernization; the phenomenon came to be known as the Bengal Renaissance. By the turn of half a century, the Bengali Hindus turned from one of the most orthodox to one of the most progressive communities in India. It was during this time that their identity came to be established with the help of modern virtues like press and railway.
Riding on the renaissance, they began to take early lessons of patriotism in the late sixties and by the turn of the 20th century, they were envisioning a modern nation state. Public media like press and theatres had become vents of nationalist sentiments, apolitical organizations had given way to political platforms, secret revolutionary societies had emerged and the society at large had become restive.
In order to keep the rising Bengali Hindu aspirations at bay, the British rulers conspired to strike at the root of their strength, their preeminent position in the Bengal, the most prosperous province of British India, where in spite of being in marginal minority in Bengal, they dominated each and every sphere of public life. The Britishers partitioned the province in 1905 and along with some additional restructuring came up with two provinces – Eastern Bengal & Assam and Bengal itself, in each of which the Bengali Hindus were reduced to minorities. The incident triggered the Bengali Hindus into swift action and within a span of six years they coerced the Britishers to undo the Partition.

Inter-partition Period

The Bengal Renaissance gave birth to a new generation of highly educated, spiritually enlightened and politically restive Bengali Hindus. The Britishers sensed imminent danger at the rise of nationalist aspirations among the Bengali Hindus, which they considered a threat to their imperialist hegemony. In order to keep the rising Bengali Hindus at bay, Curzon divided the Bengal Presidency into two - a western part called Bengal and an eastern part called Eastern Bengal and Assam, with the net effect that the Bengali Hindus being reduced to minorities in both the provinces. The Bengali Hindus, however, opposed to the Partition tooth and nail, embarked on a political movement of Swadeshi, boycott and revolutionary nationalism. On 28 September 1905, the day of Mahalaya, 50,000 Bengali Hindus resolved before the Mother at Kalighat to boycott foreign goods and stop employing foreigners. The power of Bengali Hindu resistance forced the British imperialists to finally annul the Partition on 1911. The imperialists however, carved out Bengali Hindu majority districts like Manbhum, Singbhum, Santal Pargana and Purnia awarding them to Bihar and others like Cachar that were awarded to Assam, which effectively made the Bengali Hindus a minority in the united province of Bengal. The Britishers also transferred the capital from Kolkata to New Delhi.
The revolutionary movement gained momentum after the Partition. After the first phase had ended with the martyrdom of Kshudiram, the Bengali Hindu revolutionaries collaborated with the Germans during the War to liberate British India. Later the revolutionaries defeated the British army in the Battle of Jalalabad and liberated Chittagong. During the Quit India Movement, the Bengali Hindus liberated the Tamluk and Contai subdivision of Midnapore district from British rule and established the Tamralipta National Government.

Bengali Hindus, who constituted 44% of the province, were awarded less than a third of the representation in the legislature.

The Britishers, unable to control the revolutionary activities, decided to strangulate the Bengali Hindu people through administrative reforms. The Government of India Act 1919 introduced in the 144 member Bengal Legislative Assembly, 46 seats for the Muslims, 59 for the institutions, Europeans & others and left the rest 39 as General, where the Bengali Hindus were to scramble for a representation. The situation worsened with the Communal Award of 1932, where in the 250 member Bengal Legislative Assembly a disproportionate 119 seats were reserved for the Muslims, 17 for EuropeansAnglo-Indians & Indian Christians, 34 for the institutions, and the rest 80 were left as General. The Communal Award further divided the Hindus into Scheduled Caste Hindus and Caste Hindus. Out of the 80 General seats, 10 were reserved for the Scheduled Castes. In response the leading Bengali Hindu landholderslawyers and professionals signed the Bengal Hindu Manifesto on 23 April 1932 rejecting the justification of reservation of separate electorates for Muslims in the Bengal Legislative Assembly.
In 1946, the Muslim League government resorted to large scale massacre of the Hindu population of Kolkata in the name of Direct Action Day, which escalated into the bloodiest ethnic conflict of modern India. After two days of suffering, the Bengali Hindus resorted to a violent reprisal that resulted in heavy casualties on the other side, finally forcing the government to stop the mayhem. Later in the year, the Muslim League government orchestrated the infamous Noakhali genocide, where the modesty and honour of the Bengali Hindu women were violated at the point of the sword.
The Direct Action Day and the Noakhali genocide prompted the Bengali Hindu leadership to move for the creation of a Bengali Hindu majority province by partitioning Bengal. At that time, the movement for creation of Pakistan was in full swing and Bengal was supposed to form one of its constituent provinces. After the failure of United Bengal plan when it became evident that Bengal would as a whole go to Pakistan, the Bengali Hindus voted for the Partition of Bengal. On 23 April 1947, the Amrita Bazar Patrika published the results of an opinion poll, in which 98.3% of the Bengali Hindus favored the creation of a separate homeland. The proposal for the Partition of Bengal was moved in the Legislative Assembly on 20 June 1947, where the Hindu members voted 58-21 in favor of the Partition with two members abstaining.
The Boundary Commission awarded the Bengali Hindus a territory far less in proportion to their population which was no less than 46% of the population of the province, awarding the Bengali Hindu majority district of Khulna to Pakistan.




Post-partition Period

After the Partition, the majority of the urban middle class Bengali Hindu population of East Bengal immigrated to West Bengal. The ones who stayed back belonged to two categories - ones who had significant landed property and believed that they would be able to lead a normal life in an Islamic State and others who were illiterate and backward and therefore had no other option left. However after the genocide of 1950, Bengali Hindus fled East Bengal in thousands and settled in West Bengal. In 1964, tens of thousands of Bengali Hindus were massacred in East Pakistan and most of the Bengali Hindu owned businesses were permanently destroyed. During the liberation war of Bangladesh, an estimated 24 million Bengali Hindus were massacred in Bangladesh. The Bengali Hindu people have been subject to routine persecution after Islam became the state religion of Bangladesh, most notably in 1989, 1992 and 2001. The Enemy Property Act of the Pakistan regime which is still in force in the new incarnation of Vested Property Act, has been utilized by successive governments to seize the properties of the Hindu minorities. According to Professor Abul Barkat of Dhaka University, the Act has been used to misappropriate 1.64 million acres of land from the Bengali Hindus, roughly equivalent to the 53% of the total landed area owned by them.
The refugee rehabilitation became an acute crisis and hundreds of refugees were rehabilitated in the inhabitable terrains of Orissa, ChattisgarhUttar Pradesh and the Andamans. Apart from that thousands of Bengali Hindus had also immigrated to AssamTripura and other regions of the North East. In the Barak Valley region of Assam, where the Bengali Hindus were in a majority because of the inclusion of Sylhet into Pakistan, and subsequent immigration of Bengali Hindus from Sylhet into Cachar, an impasse was arrived at on the question of language. The government of Assam had unilaterally imposed Assamese as the sole medium of education. In response, the Bengali Hindus began peaceful demonstrations demanding Bengali as the optional medium of primary education in the Barak Valley region. The situation took an ugly turn on 19 May 1961, when eleven Bengali Hindu protesters including a minor girl were gunned down by the police at the Silchar railway station. Subsequently, the Assam government allowed Bengali as the medium of education in Barak Valley. However, the rise of ethnic militancy in the eighties and nineties once again made the Bengali Hindus vulnerable in the North East.

The United Liberation Front of AsomNational Democratic Front of BodolandMuslim United Liberation Tigers of Assam and National Liberation Front of Tripura militants have selectively targeted the Bengali Hindu people. On the other hand massive infiltration from Bangladesh has substantially altered the demography in West Bengal so much so that Bengal Hindus have been reduced to minorities in the border regions. In the recent years, these marginal Bengali Hindu populations are increasingly becoming victims of Islamist fundamentalism.