Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Land That Maps Forgot

THOSE of us who keep an eye out for anomalies in the world’s maps have long held a fond regard for what might be called Greater Bengal. A crazed array of boundaries cuts Bangladesh out of the cloth of easternmost India, before slicing up the surrounding Himalayan area and India’s north-east into most of a dozen jagged mini- states. But the crème de la crème , for a student of bizarre geography, is to be found floating along the northern edge of Bangladesh’s border with India. EVER since Bangladesh achieved its independence in 1971 , struggles over territory and terrorism, rather than the exchange of goods and goodwill, have dominated its relations with its mega- neighbour. Forty years on, both countries appear to be nearing an agreement to solve the insoluble—by swapping territory. The planned exchange of parcels of each other’s territory is concentrated around some 200 enclaves. These are like islands of Indian and Bangladeshi territory surrounded completely by the other country’s land, clustered on either side of Bangladesh’s border with the district of Cooch Behar, in the Indian state of West Bengal. Surreally, these include about two dozen counter- enclaves (enclaves within enclaves), as well as the world’s only counter- counter enclave—a patch of Bangladesh that is surrounded by Indian territory…itself surrounded by Bangladeshi territory. Folklore has it that this quiltwork of enclaves is the result of a series of chess games between the Maharaja of Cooch Behar and the Faujdar of Rangpur. The noblemen wagered on their games, using villages as currency. Even in the more sober account, represented by Brendan R. Whyte, an academic, the enclaves are the “result of peace treaties in 1711 and 1713 between the kingdom of Cooch Behar and the Mughal empire, ending a long series of wars in which the Mughals wrested several districts from Cooch Behar.” That was before the days of East India Company rule, before the British Raj and long before the independence of South Asia’s modern republics. These places have been left as they were found by both India and Bangladesh: in a nearly stateless state of abandonment. They are today pockets of abject poverty with little or nothing in the way of public services. In a 2004 paper titled “ An historical and documentary study of the Cooch Behar enclaves of India and Bangladesh ”, Mr Whyte, in reference to the intractability of the boundary issues at partition, asks whether India is still “waiting for the Eskimo”. “ When in 1947 Mr Feroz Khan Noon suggested that Sir Cyril Radcliffe should not visit Lahore for he was sure to be misunderstood either by the Muslims or the Sikhs, The Statesman wrote: “On this line of argument, he [Sir Cyril] would do better to remain in London, or better still, take up residence in Alaska. Perhaps however there would be no objection to his surveying the boundaries of the Punjab from the air if piloted by an Esqimo”. ” Apparently the newspaper thought that anyone’s sorting this border dispute anytime soon was highly improbable. Sir Cyril’s success seemed as implausible—in those waning days of the British empire—as the notion of an Inuit flying an aeroplane. Most of a century later and a flying “Esqimo” seems like no big deal, while progress on the zany borders of Cooch Behar has made no progress at all. There is now talk that a land swap might be sealed when India’s prime minister Manmohan Singh visits Bangladesh later this year. If it goes ahead, India stands to lose just over 4 , 000 hectares of its territory, or about 40 square kilometres. It has 111 enclaves of land within Bangladesh—nearly 70 square kilometres. Bangladesh has 51 enclaves of its own, comprising 28 square kilometres surrounded by India. The transfer proposed would simplify the messy boundary immeasurably— and entail something like a 10 ,000- acre net loss for India. For India’s governing Congress party, making a gift of land to Bangladesh— in all an area equivalent to the size of 2 ,000 test-cricket stadiums—will not come easy. During a time of ideological waffle, it is an issue which India’s opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) can use to flaunt its nationalistic ( oftentimes pro-Hindu, ie anti-Muslim) credentials and to attack Congress at a weak spot—its perceived softness towards illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, most of them Muslims. By many estimates, more than 15 m illegal migrants have entered India from Bangladesh since 1971. The BJP has been trotting out the round figure of 20 m for years. Meanwhile, construction of a border fence, 2.5 m high, on India’s 4,100km border with Bangladesh, the world’s fifth-longest (due to all its zigging and zagging), continues unabated. It is a bloody border, too. Indian soldiers enforce a shoot-to-kill order against Bangladeshi migrants caught making their mundane way from one side of the line to the other. But what’s in it for India? Its broader desire to clarify its fuzzy borders with all its neighbours provides one attraction. The dispute with Pakistan over Kashmir has eluded resolution. China’s claim of the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh remains an open sore. Drawing one steady borderline in the east looks comparatively easy. India must also hope that its generous co-operation in the territorial dispute might help Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina Wajed, secure popular Bangladeshi support for a rapprochement with India. Her Awami League (AL) government has proven itself a willing partner: working to deny Bangladeshi territory to the insurgent groups who challenge Indian sovereignty in its north-eastern states; and cracking down Bangladesh’s homegrown Islamic-extremist fringe. But as many of Sheikh Hasina’s fellow citizens see things, India has yet to reciprocate following their government’ s consent last year to allow India to use Bangladesh’s ports and roads. The main opposition party, the Bangladesh National Party (BNP), whose leader likes to say that no foreign vehicles should be allowed to use Bangladesh’s territory, scents blood. Indian diplomats know this. A diplomatic cable from the American embassy , leaked to the world by WikiLeaks, summarises discussions held in 2009 between India’s then High Commissioner to Bangladesh and the American ambassador. India, the Americans thought, would like to establish a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh on counterterrorism, but was impeded by its understanding “that Bangladesh might insist on a regional task force to provide Hasina political cover from allegations she was too close to India”. Such international intriguing tends to ignore the people who actually in the enclaves—150,000 by some estimates—who are left waiting. Their chief grievance is a complete lack of public services: with no education, infrastructure for water, electricity etc, they may as well not be citizens of any country. NGOs are barred from working in the enclaves. The question of their citizenship is a major obstacle in resolving the problem: referendums are out of the question, as India does not want to create a precedent which could inspire Kashmiris or north-easterners fighting for independent statehood. The people who actually live in enclaves (and counter-enclaves) in a certain sense “don't see” the borders. They speak the same language, eat the same food and live life without regard to the politicians in Dhaka, Kolkata and Delhi. Many of them cross the border regularly (the bribe is US$6 a trip from the Bangladeshi side). A few years ago, away from Cooch Behar, on the eastern border with India, I met a man who lived smack on the border between Tripura state and Bangladesh. His living room was in Bangladesh, his toilet in India. He had been a local politician in India, and was now working as a farmer in Bangladesh. As is typical in such places, he sent his daughters to school in Bangladesh, and his sons to India, where schools, he thought, were much better. To his mind, the fence dividing the two countries was of little value. But, he conceded, “ at least my cows don’t run away anymore.”

Indigenous Land Dispute Turns Deadly In Bangladesh

The Bangladeshi authorities must act to end the outbreak of violence in the Chittagong Hill Tracts area between Bengali settlers and Jumma indigenous peoples that has left three dead and at least 20 injured, Amnesty International said today.The authorities must also provide proper accountability for deaths and destruction caused in this incident. The latest round of tensions began on 14 April when a group of Bengali settlers occupied and tried to plant crops on areas within the Jumma’s ancestral lands, in Khagrachari District in south- eastern Bangladesh. After three Bengali settlers were killed on 17 April, allegedly by Jumma people, settlers looted surrounding indigenous villages and injured people, burning at least 60 homes. Indigenous sources say they informed the local authorities – including the army, which has a heavy presence in the area – of the settlers’ movements, but they failed to act on the information. Khagrachari authorities have said they would set up an inquiry into the latest incident and that victims would be compensated. Amnesty International is urging the government of Bangladesh to ensure that the inquiry is conducted in a thorough, independent and impartial manner to determine what happened. The authorities must bring those accused of killing or injuring others, or destroying their property to justice. Any army, police or other security personnel who allowed this type of attack to take place must also be brought to justice. This deadly violence could have been prevented if the authorities had taken appropriate action in time. The failure to prevent these clashes suggests Bangladeshi authorities aren’t following through on their responsibility to uphold the peace accord and prevent the further escalation of violence on indigenous lands. The government of Bangladesh must ensure that the local administration and the army take the recurring clashes between the two communities in the Chittagong Hill Tracts seriously, work to prevent them and remove their underlying causes. In this context, Amnesty International is alarmed that the Deputy Commissioner of Khagrachari District (the highest executive authority in the area) told the Daily Star newspaper on 18 April that the incidents were “ not so serious”. Amnesty International calls on the Bangladeshi government to make public the details of any plan to compensate the victims and survivors of these attacks, which should include rehabilitation for people who lost their homes and belongings and medical treatment for those who were injured. The violence underscores the need for Bangladeshi authorities to implement a 1997 peace accord, which was signed between the then Awami League government and representatives of the indigenous peoples. The accord ended a 20- year insurgency in Chittagong Hill Tracts and provided for a peaceful settlement of the conflict between the two communities. From 1976 to 1997 , many Bengalis were officially settled onto land historically belonging to the Jumma in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Meanwhile, the Jumma indigenous inhabitants were engaged in a simmering armed conflict against the Bangladesh army. There were frequent attacks during this period led by Bengali settlers against Jumma villages, often with army involvement. Tens of thousands of Jumma people fled their homes and scattered throughout the hill districts or fled to neighbouring India to escape the fighting. Despite the 1997 peace accord, clashes between the Bengali settlers and Jumma inhabitants have continued. These confrontations have included deaths on both sides. In the most recent clashes, the dead were all Bengali settlers while most of the injured were from the Jumma indigenous peoples. Amnesty International is urging the Jumma leadership to impress upon Jumma peoples that they cannot resort to deadly violence, no matter what their grievances. Leaders of Jumma and settlers communities must do what they can to prevent further lethal outbreaks. Amnesty International is urging the government of Bangladesh to implement key provisions of the peace accord, which include the establishment of an effective land commission to resolve disputes in the Jumma’s ancestral lands, and the withdrawal of some 400 temporary army camps in the area, which Jumma inhabitants say frequently allow the advance of Bengali settlers onto indigenous land, rather than preventing it.

Killing Of Bangladeshis By Indian BSF

The atrocities of Indian Border Security Force (BSF) on the Bangladesh border have crossed all limits. This is evident from the fact that the BSF’s spree of killing Bangladeshis is continuing unabated. In the latest incident BSF shot dead two cowboys and wounded two others at Basantapur border in Kaliganj upazila in Satkhira on 18 April morning, according to UNB. Rekatul Islam, 16 , and another unidentified boy, whose body was dragged away by the BSF jawans, were killed on the spot. Rekatul was son of Munsur Gazi, resident of Basantapur village.Shahadat Hossain, 25 , of Maghurali village and Azizul Islam, 40 , of Jabakhali village were admitted to Khulna 250- bed Hospital with bullet wounds. The victims were rescued from the zero point of Basantapur border on Monday morning. It may be pointed out that BSF is killing Bangladeshi citizens along the border frequently. Earlier, on April 12 , BSF killed a Bangladeshi man at Sonaikandi frontier in Poba upazila in Rajshahi .The deceased was identified as Alamgir Hossain Kalu, 30 , of Berapara village of the upazila. He was a cattle trader. Before that one Bangladeshi national was killed and another injured when the BSF opened fire along Nitpur border under Porsha upazila in Naogaon on April 10. Even girls are not spared by BSF. A Bangladeshi girl Felani, 15 , fell victim to the brutal killing by BSF in January. She was the first Bangladeshi citizen to be killed by BSF in the year of 2011 and the 62 nd during the twelve months. With the latest killings, the number of Bangladeshis killed by BSF in the year of 2011 rose to eight and the total during the last 15 months to 69. Innocent and unarmed Bangladeshi citizens are being killed in indiscriminate firings and also in torture by BSF of India on the borders regularly. The BSF allegedly killed 907 unarmed Bangladeshis between January 2000 and 31 March 2011 , Odhikar, a human rights body based in Dhaka, says in its latest report. In other words till now 911 Bangladeshis have been killed by BSF since 2000. The atrocious Indian border guards are continuing their killing spree of Bangladeshi citizens on the border violating its own pledge not to do so. The killings of unarmed Bangladeshis by the BSF on the border are continuing in clear violation of the spirit of good neighborliness as well as international law and despite repeated pledges by the Indian authorities to stop it. In every meeting between BSF and BDR (now renamed BGB) and also between the higher level officials of the two countries, the Indian side assured that killing of Bangladeshis by its forces on the border would come to an end immediately. But this pledge has seldom been implemented. This is very unfortunate and unwarranted from a close neighbor We are constrained to write repeatedly on the atrocities of the Indian BSF as it has assumed the shape of a spectre and is showing its might by killing Bangladeshis along the border and trespassing illegally into Bangladesh territory. We find no words strong enough to condemn the killings of Bangladeshis by BSF. Although India speaks loudly of friendly relations with its neighbors, it acts apparently with a tendency of hegemony. We urge the Indian government to behave properly if it really wants good relations with neighbors. We cannot but raise a question as to what is our government doing in respect of the killings of Bangladeshis by BSF on the border. This is not a matter to be ignored or watched as silent spectator. The government must take up the matter very seriously and urgently with the government of India and ask them to stop the killings by BSF immediately. New Delhi should be told straight that friendship with Dhaka and killing Bangladeshi citizens on the border can not go hand in hand.