Tuesday, May 17, 2011

State - Sanctioned Murder : INDIA's Secret Policy

It is Sunday morning. No one is around. The house is uncharacteristically quiet. The only sound in the room is the cascading of the water from our fish filter. I am unused to the quiet. I find it disconcerting, maybe even a little scary. Silence can be frightening. I surf to the news coming out of Bangladesh. The major political combatants are out of the country. The headlines are about the usual unabated killings by the Indian BSF. Only one news source confirms this fact. In the United States, we have gone to war for less. From what I read, Milon Hossain, age 20 ( the same age as my eldest daughter) was shot to death. What sort of inhuman troops does India arm to patrol the Bangladesh border? Where is the outrage? If the reports are accurate, then what it proves is that India is not interested in justice. Talks will continue, smiles, handshakes and photo ops will be the outcome. Soulless border guards will continue to patrol and India will send another smiling someone to make yet another promise. But the killings will continue. The poem by Pastor Marin Niemoller springs to mind: ‘‘Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a Jew…’’ In Bangladesh, neither of the feuding leaders are home. The news, despite the usual murder along the border, continues to be quiet. The international community continues to hold its tongue. Will either leader publicly call India to task for its brutality? It occurs to me that Bangladesh is an easy target. In the Yunusgate affair, however I may have felt about the political motivation of such action, I thought the US commentary was just another case of our interference in the internal affairs of a nation we had no business talking about. But this issue requires international attention. I have written letters to several news sources but to no avail. How many more articles must be written? A week after Mother’s Day, some mother now must live with the fact that her beloved son will never come back home to her. I can guarantee you, if the perpetrators had been Muslim and the victims Indian, the news would have made every newspaper in the world. ‘‘…Then they came for the herders And I didn’t speak out because I crossed no borders. Then they came for the poor Muslims And I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a poor Muslim…’’ In my quiet house, my blood boils when I read such reports. Isn’t India supposed to be a friend, a civilised nation? Half a world away, life goes on. My daughter returns from University. She will cross borders between states. She has crossed borders between nations. She has visited India. She experienced the people there as warm and friendly, people who love their children. How could it be then, that this nation can summon no empathy? Where is the outrage of the Indian people when it comes to these murders? But what can the people of Bangladesh do to lift their voices in protest against the actions of a so- called ally? As I read your history, it seems to me that you are very gentle with outsiders, and even if actions at home turn violent, the violence is not nearly on the scale that we practiced it even 60 years after our own independence. We used to slaughter anyone we didn’t like: Mormons, Native Americans, Immigrants…It seems to me that Bangladesh is a more civil society, almost the antithesis of a rogue nation. But these killings have to stop. I ask myself, “What would I do? How could I appeal to the world in a way that the world would take notice?” I might ask, “What act of civil disobedience would attract the world’s attention, or at least win the sympathy of the Indian people so that these killings finally end? I mean, we’ve tried every civil means at our disposal. The world doesn’t care. India lets this continue. What are we to do? The first thing I’d do is put a name to this brutality: The Border Massacres. I would proclaim it the duty of every Bangladeshi, and of all friends of Bangladesh to make the world see that the torture and killing of children, women and men is as outrageous when it befalls the poor and Muslim as it is when it befalls any other human being. This new killing, sheds light on 15- year-old Felani’s death in January, the fact that she was kept hanging on the fence crying for water, as she bled to death was intentional torture on behalf of the individuals India chooses to arm. Some may question the word “ Massacre”. Merriam-Webster defines a “massacre” as “an indiscriminate and brutal slaughter of people”. I think the label is appropriate. I have considered other words, “murder”– that doesn’t work, because it implies illegality. These killings are policy decisions on the part of a government. “Holocaust” is too politically charged. I consider the shoot-to-kill order an extermination policy, but to call it an “extermination” makes it sound like the people who are crossing the border are something less than human. And the point is that they are real people, with real lives, and have the same God-given right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as anyone in India, or anywhere else. According to my sources, based on a report by the Human Rights Watch, which conducted extensive interviews, almost 1 ,000 unarmed Bangladeshis, including children, were slaughtered in the past decade by India. A UK newspaper, The Guardian, indicates that these routine violations of human rights are condoned, even encouraged by the Delhi government. The same article points to the Wikileaks report about the Indian government condoning the routine torture of detainees in Kashmir. The author of the Guardian article is, likewise surprised by the lack of reaction in the West. He calls the India-Bangladesh border a “South Asian killing field”. I would strive to make the world understand that innocent people are dying merely in the act of trying to make a living. I would let the world know that India is getting away with it because no one empathises with a poor Muslim cattle herder crossing an arbitrary border that divides family, livelihood, and cultural identity. I would trust that if the people of India were made aware of the atrocities, they would do something to stop it. They would not attempt to justify torture and killing. I admit that my original solution was to symbolically link The Border Massacres to the symbols of brutality that the West would understand, like the slaughter of the innocent by the Nazis in World War II. However, such displays may verge on the extreme and be counterproductive, and those who read this article in its original version agreed that my frustration with the West’s silence on this matter, and the willingness of India to allow this to continue made me write a little too radically.  Still, something must be done to call attention to the situation. I recall my visit to Berlin in the 1980 ’s before The Wall fell. There, along The Wall the West Germans had hung markers commemorating those who were shot by East German forces as they attempted to cross into the West. Perhaps “ Border Massacre” displays at prominent border crossings, with the names and ages of each victim should be created by individuals living close to the border in Bangladesh. The markers should be large enough to be able to be read by individuals crossing both ways. I would let the people of the world know that these markers are simply a call for solidarity against the sort of inhumanity that can lead to the sadistic slaughter of the innocent anywhere it occurs. It would invite the West to speak out for the victims of such atrocities no matter where in the world they happen to be. Would the West take notice? Might Friend of the West, Mohammed Yunus, be able to use his fame to ask his friends to bring attention to this issue, now that he’s between jobs? Is there some gentler way of stopping the atrocities? “…Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me…” My house is coming to life, and I read my words with a little more than the usual trepidation that comes whenever it is time to hit the “send” button. I ask, as I always do before sending, if “the words of my pen and the meditations of my heart” are acceptable to God, if they lift the level of understanding in the world in general, if I have told the truth, and if I have filled the page with love. I wonder if I have spoken too radically, if I am so ignorant on this matter that I do not see a larger truth. I have good friends in India, and I have many good Indian friends here. These are people I admire and who have taught me many things. Still, I am guided by the inescapable truth that all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing, and something must be done. I fear offending my friends. I fear speaking out of turn. I fear my own ignorance on these matters. I fear someone will take me up on my proposed approach and it would lead to unintended consequences. But more than anything else, I fear the silence. I find it disconcerting, even a little scary, here at home and in the world, when “they” come for the innocent. ‘…And I don’t speak up, because I am not innocent.