Saturday, June 18, 2011

Surrounded By 3783km Of Barbed Wire Fencing : Is Bangladesh To Be The World's Largest Prison?

The famous, or infamous, Berlin Wall used to be 140 km. The wall which Israel has built around Gaza is 760 km. The wall along the US- Mexico border is 1123 km. But the length of the Indian barbed wire fencing along its border with Bangladesh is more than all these walls combined.   The longest border fencing in the world   While Bangladesh and India share a 4096 border which delineates the two separate countries, the people of the border regions are not always that separate. Particularly the people of West Bengal and Assam , and those this side of the border adjacent to those states, have relations or either side of the border, and in the past had thriving business relations too. In fact, the border would even pass through the middle of some houses, causing the international media to even term it as the world’ s most “inhuman border”. The logic put forward by the Indian politicians for constructing this fence is very much on the same lines as the Israel justification of wall along Palestine . India is also proceeding with the construction of a 1800 km fence along its border with Pakistan . However, the construction of the fence around Bangladesh is proceeding at a much faster pace. This is now being acknowledged as the world’s longest border fence. Concerned government, human rights activists and the affected countries are very vocal in their protest against the border wall between Israel and Palestine and the fencing between USA and Mexico . In Bangladesh , however, this issue is being totally overlooked. Only on May 15 , 2010 , Abdus Sobhan Sikder, Home Secretary at the time, said, “In constructing this barbed wire fencing, India has violated international laws in at least 46 places [The Daily Star May 16 , 2010 ].” The Home Secretary pointed out that even in the joint survey with India , at least 12 points were identified where there was violation of the international compulsions not to have any structures or construction within 150 yards from the zero point of the border demarcation.   Symbol of racism   This project went into full operation from 1989. Initially 3.7 billion rupees was allocated for this project, but this amount gradually increased and is likely to stand at 10.5 billion rupees. Not only has Indian erected this barbed wire fence, but in places has also, along the fence, constructed roads for movement of heavy military vehicles. So far about 3000 km of fencing has been completed. The fence is three metres high. Several other structures are to be constructed alongside the fencing. Using the Right to Information Act, on 30 December, 2009 , local Indian citizens obligated their government to reveal detailed information about the border fencing. It was then revealed that till date a total of 5205.43 rupees had been spent and the decision had been to raise 3436.59 km of barbed wire border fencing. Later Indian sources revealed that actually 3783 km of fencing would be raised. According to a statement made by the then Indian Home Secretary in the Lok Sabha, in the 2004-5 financial year, already a sum of 2404.70 rupees has been spent on the fencing. In some places of Assam the barbed wire fence has even been electrified. When the US had decided to construct a wall/fencing along its border with Mexico , at least two laws had been drawn up in two phases. Finally the Secure Fence Act 2006 was adopted for the task. This came into effect from September 13 , 2006 . In the case of India , no such law was adopted. It was simply by administrative decision that the plan to surround Bangladesh was taken up for execution. The justification made by the US for its border wall was that narcotics were being smuggled in from Mexico . As for Israel , they reasoned that the wall along the West Bank was a security measure against alleged Palestinian terrorist attacks. India faced neither threat from Bangladesh . On the contrary, it is from India that Phensydyl and other narcotic substances as well as arms and ammunition enter Bangladesh , posing as a security threat to this side of the border. Despite all this, Bangladesh never demanded any kind of anti-humanitarian sort of infrastructure. Interestingly, all the issues which India has highlighted in justifying this border fencing, exist in the case of Nepal too, but it has made no move for any such wall with Nepal . Perhaps it is because of their diplomacy and failure to fall into the trap of ethnic hatred that Bangladesh ’s policymakers have maintained a strange silence about this fencing, while standing fully in favour of handing over transit or corridor facilities to India . Yet this construction of the fence and road around the border is even a violation of the Mujib-Indira treaty signed in 1974. Even though this treaty expired in 1997 , it is still considered to be the guiding force behind Bangladesh- India relations. According to the Mujib-Indira treaty, neither of the country could construct any infrastructure that would be harmful to the other country. In constructing this border fencing, India has completely moved away from the treaty. Along various parts of its border, India is using ground sensor technology imported from Israel . In a recent issue of the Kolkata daily Bartaman (June 5 , 2011) , Ashok Kumar, Acting DG of BSF’s Cooch Bihar sector, is quoted to have said that they are using such sophisticated thermal imagers that even in the night they can observe activities a few kilometers within Bangladesh. Previously, on October 15 , 2006 , Zee News sources revealed that just for the Bangladesh border alone, India had procured 900 hand-held imagers, each set costing 28 lac rupees. The equipment uses its body heat to detect its object. Additionally, BSF has procured for the border Israel-made LORROS ( Long-Range Recce and Observation System) which enables them to carry out intensive observation for 40 miles along the border. They have procured at least 27 sets of such radar-based technology, each set costing two crore rupees. It is not in technology alone, but in its entire border management that India has forgotten the spirit of the Mujib-Indira Treaty. The very first paragraph speaks of long-term peace and friendship, peaceful co- existence, and not having any discriminatory attitudes towards one another. But having a thousands of miles long barbed wire fence surrounding Bangladesh hardly speaks of friendship. On the contrary to speaks of a sort of ethnic hatred. The US has a similar attitude towards Mexico .   Threat to biodiversity   All the elements for which the human rights activists of the world opposed the Israel-Palestine and the US-Mexico border walls/ fencing, exist in the case of India and Bangladesh too. The ethnic groups living along the US-Mexican border are being cut off from each other’s kith and kin because of the border wall. The fencing between Bangladesh and India has similar broken up thousands of families. Since time immemorial people on either side of the border have become related to each other through marriage. They could never imagine a wall separating people of the same language and ethnicity. These families are now split. This has also hit them hard economically. This longest border fencing in the world is also going to divide the world largest mangrove forest, the Sundarbans. This has created concern among environmentalists at an international level. Roads and other infrastructure will have to be constructed in the Sundarbans too for them to set up this wire fencing. The wire fencing and the roads will certainly harm Sundarbans’ biodiversity. Tigers and other animals on the verge of extinction will lose their natural habitat. Biodiversity will vanish in no time if the fencing is electrified.   A military mindset   Needless to say, the source of such a short-sighted anti-humanitarian project is the military and bureaucratic mindset. It is noted that the three countries constructing these controversial border divides have strong military mindsets and also share links of cooperation among each other. Most of the agreements of cooperation among these countries are of the military ilk. The right wing media aids and assists in placing public opinion in the military mould. It is the smaller neighbours like Bangladesh who have to bear the brunt of such attitudes. And yet for the “ security” which India is apparently seeking through its barbed wire fencing, the best alternative would be for it to grow strong ties of friendship and trust with Bangladesh .