Cattle smugglers, farmers, daily wagers, 13-year-olds. Hundreds have been shot by the Border Security Force. In the name of self-defence. Tusha Mittal tracks the extra-judicial killings in one district along Indo-Bangladesh border
THRICE THIS year, Mister Jinnah, 14, defied his mother. Thrice he walked a cow across an international border. With the Rs 6,000 he earned, he bought himself a pair of jeans, English and Bangla textbooks, and a cell phone that now stores 200 songs; Paglu, being his favourite.
In the space between two countries, along the stretch of the Indo-Bangladesh border in West Bengal’s Murshidabad district, there is a kind of irreverence for boundaries — of nationality, of legality, of life and death itself.
Jinnah is one of the many children ferrying cows across the border as part of an illegal cattle trade, valued by insiders at Rs 5,000 crore. While the trade is a major source of livelihood in one of Bengal’s poorest districts, it has also led to extra-judicial killings by the Border Security Force (BSF).
Three key players make up the cattle trade. The ghatiyal — the entrepreneur, the owner of cows and controller of capital. The dalal — the broker who connects complicit authorities with cattle smugglers. There are BSF dalals, police dalals, and customs dalals. Collectively, the brokers are known as The Commission. To arrange the cattle crossover, The Commission can be contacted either by BSF constables or the ghatiyal. On an average, “the BSF allows cows to pass 10 days a month,” a BSF broker told TEHELKA on condition of anonymity. And finally, there is the rakhal — the labourer who ferries cows across the border, the bearer of the greatest risk and smallest profit. Wages are paid only when the rakhal returns to India, having successfully delivered cows to designated huts in Bangladesh. The rakhal can be caught by the BSF, be shot at point-blank, or be killed in border firing. Cows seized from the rakhal are handed over to the Customs. Though protocol demands an open auction of cows, Customs officials are known to sell the cows back to the smugglers at a higher rate, cutting their own fee.
Beyond these three categories, there is greater milling. There are rakhals forming groups, pooling in funds, acting as ghatiyals; there are ghatiyals with smaller businesses, employing labour, and yet compelled to cross the border themselves as rakhals.
While the cattle trade is illegal in India, the sale of Indian cows in Bangladesh is legal and taxable. Cows are herded into Murshidabad from Punjab, Bihar and Haryana and sold at weekly markets dotting the border.
With an average sale of about 1,000 cows in 20 such goru haats in Murshidabad, nearly 20,000 cows gather at India’s eastern tip every month. With the price of beef nearly double in Bangladesh, it is unlikely that the cows are going anywhere else.
“There is subsistence level of petty cattle smuggling where the border is not fenced,” BSF South Bengal Inspector General RK Ponoth told TEHELKA. “But it is not smuggling in the true sense. The BSF personnel are trying their best to prevent it.” Yet, he later admits that the BSF is compelled to fire at smugglers. “There is no law that permits us to open fire. But when the force is confronted with an aggressive criminal who attacks, they exercise their right to self-defence.” This is what it means in a police FIR in Murshidabad, Raninagar police case 152/08, a copy of which is with TEHELKA: “Constable Harpal Singh got an injury in the right hand index finger. On sensing imminent danger to his life, he fired .03 rounds.”
In recent years, the BSF has been compelled to acknowledge border firing after its counterpart, the Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB), accused it of killing unarmed Bangladeshi citizens. Last week, the BSF and BGB chiefs met in Dhaka, in the aftermath of PM Manmohan Singh’s high-profile visit to Bangladesh.
On record, BSF Director General Raman Srivastava admitted that 55 Bangladeshis have been killed since 2009 — 32 in 2010 and seven in 2011. “We fire in self-defence,” he said.
There is no accurate data for the total killings along the entire Indo-Bangla border. Since 2007, Kolkata-based NGO Masum has documented 165 killings in just two districts of West Bengal — Murshidabad and North 24 Paraganas, accounting for 8 percent of the West Bengal- Bangladesh border. Masum has also filed at least 150 complaints before the National Human Rights Commission; 29 have been closed, and responses are still being awaited in 98. Another report by Dhaka-based NGO Odhikar puts the figure at 1,000 killings in the past 10 years along the entire border. According a 2010 report by Human Rights Watch, the BSF itself admits to killing 164 Indians and 347 Bangladeshis since 2006.
“We have agreed to ensure that no innocent civilian is shot by our troops,” BSF DG Srivastava said in his March 2010 Dhaka visit. “We have no reason to fire at innocent civilians. We fire at criminals who violate border norms.”
That itself is a violation of Indian and international law. Unlike the army, the BSF has no special powers allowing it impunity. It can only fire in self-defence. It is this right that is being misused. To understand how, survey the dead: Asif Iqbal, 13, and Shahin Sheikh, 15, killed while smuggling cows for Rs 200. Sumanta Mondal, 15, killed while plucking mustard on his fields after 5 pm. Sushanto Mandal, 15, chased by a BSF speedboat while swimming in a lake, and killed by its propeller blade.
“No BSF personnel has been arrested or held liable for any of these crimes,” says Masum founder Kirity Roy. Under the Border Security Act, BSF personnel cannot be tried in civilian courts without prior approval from the Union home ministry. The Act gives supremacy to BSF’s internal courts. Of the 30 extra- judicial killing cases that Masum is fighting in local courts, the BSF has had 16 transferred to their own internal court. It is not mandatory for the BSF to make the verdicts public.
India shares a 2,216-km porous border with Bangladesh. According to national security guidelines, the BSF outposts are meant to be 150 m from the zero line — the international border fencing. But in Murshidabad, not only is the fencing incomplete in many parts, the BSF outposts are located up to 8 km into Indian territory. It has created a de facto Line of Control; locals know it as the BSF road. Beyond it is a kind of No Man’s Land – acres of paddy, potato and mustard. It is in this space that most killings happen. One such point has been renamed by locals as ‘Kargil.’
“Our deployment is totally wrong,” says BSF constable Amit Kumar. “I have never seen the zero line. This is called observation point. I should be observing Bangladesh but I am only observing farmland in India. Because there is no fencing at the actual border, the smuggling can go on easily.”
IT IS past 9 pm near the Murshidabad border. Samrat Mondal, 15, is walking cattle three km from Paltondigri to Munshipara. The moon is silver, the soil a deep red. It is harvest season, and all along the mud path, tall mounds of jute stand upright, like sages. Tonight, Mondal will not cross the border. He will drop off the cows at a nearby collection point, earning Rs 100 per cow. “I’m scared,” he says, panting, short of breath. “But I do it for the money.” To ensure his safe arrival at the collection point, a ghatiyal has handed Mondal two square chits — a blue chit with a peacock symbol, and a yellow chit with a tiger symbol. Issued by the police and the Customs, these chits are Murshidabad’s ‘passports’ — a sign that the police and Customs have received their due ‘cut’ and wish you a safe journey.
At the end of a village road, men in jeans and lungis are gathering the herd, waiting for a sign. Whether the rest will cross tonight depends on the BSF. With a cane stick and three cows, Mondal moves on. It is dark. The fog is dense, and in the distance, there is only the outline of man and animal.
When such cattle convoys are dispatched to Bangladesh with the sanction of BSF officials, it is known as a ‘BSF line’, or ‘meet’. Many ghatiyals, however, prefer the second option — ‘bypass’ — when cows are sent dodging the guards. The greater risk brings greater profits. It can save the BSF ‘cut’ of up to Rs 5,000 per pair of cows. Part of this is used to lure youth. While the labourer’s wage for the BSF line is usually Rs 500- Rs 1,000 per pair, those who are willing to ‘bypass’ can earn Rs 2,000- Rs 5,000.
Yet another variable complicates this: time. It can suddenly turn the ‘meet’ more profitable than the ‘bypass’. “Imagine the number of cows that can be sent if the BSF opens the line for two hours,” says a ghatiyal. “Sometimes, we can make up to Rs 2 lakh in one night.”
From a city far away, the border is murky terrain where human trafficking, illegal migration, drug trade and infiltration of insurgents are rampant. Firing here can appear collateral damage, the inadvertent outcomes of a troubled border.
But on the night of 5 May 2009, Abdus Samad wasn’t even at the border. He was asleep in his hut 10 km away. Working as a labourer in Kolkata, he had returned to Lalgola to vote in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. “At 3 am, BSF jawans barged into our hut and dragged him out,” says his wife Rima Bewa. The next morning, she found his body under a tree inside a BSF camp. “He was killed while smuggling cows on the border,” she was told.
IN THE cattle trade, several flashpoints can trigger a killing. At times it is infighting, or lack of coordination — as when one outpost allows the smuggling, while jawans of another fire. At times, where bosses are not complicit, it is the fear of being caught. On 5 January, Rezaul Karim was fixing a hand pump on his fields. A BSF line was in quiet progress nearby. The sudden approaching headlights of the Company Commander, E 37 Battalion, compelled the jawans to put up a show. The bullet that hit Karim pierced through his back. TEHELKA has a copy of his post-mortem report. It describes his injury as “a round wound, half-inch in diameter, on the back of the chest, two inches from the midline.” It lists the cause of death as “hemorrhage, shock and bullet entry wounds.” His wife Sabina Bibi survives by rolling bidis. Every 500 bidis she rolls earns her Rs 25.
At times, it is the audacity of desperate men trying to pass through the fog unseen. Milton Sheikh was killed in July 2010. “While a BSF line was on, other cattle traders tried to sneak in without paying the cut,” says eyewitness Maphikool. “It angered the jawans. They caught hold of Milton and shot him.”
The greater risk brings greater profit. It can save smugglers the BSF ‘commission’ of up to Rs 5,000 per pair of cows
In the following pages, read six such stories. Pictures of dead bodies have been sourced from a photographer in Murshidabad who does not want to be named. The photos of Peeparul Sheikh and Noor Hussain were taken while their bodies were in police custody at Jalangi and Lalgola Police Station. In the last picture, Yadul Sheikh is being carted to Raninagar Police Station. His body is in the trunk of a BSF van.
“Yes, there are some incidents of smugglers being killed,” Murshidabad SP BL Meena told TEHELKA. “Several cases are being investigated. If it is proved that firing by BSFwas done in private self-defence, then there is no question of arrest.”
‘He had a bullet in his leg, so he couldn’t run’
Entajul Sheikh, 25
ON THE night of 7 July 2010, nine men from Khampara village began a forbidden journey towards Bangladesh with four buffaloes. Their plan was to deliver the cattle at a designated hut across the border, which would make each man richer by about Rs 2,100.
After a successful drop, they started the trek back. At around 1 am, they had passed the border post when they saw the scoping beams of a flashlight. “We heard firing. We knew the BSF had detected us. We ran back towards Bangladesh,” says Riazul Sheikh, 25, one of the smugglers.
The men scurried, the BSF chased. Someone fell down, the rest moved on. About 500 m from the border, they stopped for a breather behind a tree. Riazul could see three jawans approaching, shining their torches, talking among themselves about a body. Some shots had already been fired. It appeared one of them was already dead.
After a few minutes of silence, Riazul heard another voice. “Please don’t kill me,” his friend Nentu Sheikh was pleading. In the distance, Riazul could see the BSF men standing next to a fallen man. “Don’t kill me, please arrest me,” Nentu said. “I have a child at home.” There was some shuffling of feet. “If you have a kid at home, why are you here?” a jawan said before firing.
The men moved on. They stopped when they discovered another fallen man. “Entajul (Sheikh) was lying on the ground holding his breath. He had a bullet in his leg, so he couldn’t run,” recalls Riazul.
“Please don’t kill me,” Entajul pleaded with the jawans. “It is because of you that we lose our jobs,” a jawan replied. From behind a tree, Riazul watched as Entajul was dragged towards the border. About 30 minutes later, he heard another shot.
“The BSF lets the terrorists go and catches us. They are like lions on the border,” says Riazul. “They allow smuggling, then kill us for doing it. What else should we do? Run away to Dilli?”
The next morning, Entajul’s corpse was taken to the Godhanpara primary health centre. The village pradhan was called to identify the body. “It seems he was tortured before being killed,” says Entajul’s father Mujahar Sheikh.
A case of unnatural death was registered at the Raninagar Police Station and the body sent for postmortem. Meanwhile, a criminal case was filed against Entajul on the basis of a complaint by Rakesh Rana, assistant commander of the BSF’s 52nd Battalion.
The FIR reads: “On the intervening night of 6-7 July, constable Rajesh Kumar was on duty at Naka No. 7. At 1 am, he saw 12- 15 cattle smugglers on the home side. Kumar tried to stop them and called constable Tudu to assist him. One of the smugglers assaulted Kumar and 12-15 smugglers from the Bangladeshi side came over to overpower the sentry. On seeing imminent danger to his life and government property, he fired in self-defence and hit two smugglers. A search party recovered the following items from the scene: 1 cell phone, 1 sickle, 1 knife, Rs 25.50 and six cows.”
When the family tried to lodge an FIR against the BSF, the police refused to do so. The family then approached the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), which issued a notice to the BSF director-general and West Bengal DGP in October 2010.
“The complainant has intimated about the extra-judicial killing of Entajul Sheikh by a person attached with the BSF Battalion No. 52 of the Kaharpara headquarters. He has alleged that no FIR has been registered in this matter. Calling for a report in the matter within four weeks,” the notice said.
The BSF replied with the same defence: self-defence.
‘The BSF fired at my son to create terror in the locality’
Mritunjoy Mondal, 30
Char Rajanagar village
ON THE morning of 26 June 2009, Swapan Mondal, a resident of Char Rajanagar village, awoke to strange sounds and a stranger sight. Barely a few metres from his hut, he saw his neighbour Mritunjoy Mondal’s injured body being dragged by BSF men to the nearest outpost.
“I woke up around dawn,” recalls Mritunjoy. “I stepped out of the house, picked up a mug, and went to the fields to defecate. As I was returning, I saw some men running towards the field. As I was about to enter my hut, I saw two soldiers peeping from behind a jackfruit tree. Our eyes met. Suddenly, I heard a gunshot. A few seconds later, I saw my arm oozing blood. I realised I had been hit by a bullet.”
By the time the jawans took him to the Rajanagar camp, he was barely conscious, but could still hear snatches of conversation. “Don’t kill him,” he recalls a third soldier saying to the two men clutching his body.
Mritunjoy was then taken from the BSF camp to the Raninagar Police Station and a complaint was lodged against him for illegally crossing the border. Another case was filed at the Customs office with the following seizure list: 15 pieces of Keya Soap valued at Rs 150.
Soon, Mritunjoy was whisked away to the Berhampore district hospital for treatment. Six days later, he was shifted to the Nilratan Sircar Medical College Hospital in Kolkata. The labourer ended up paying the bills — Rs 80,000, equal to 10 months’ salary — from his own pocket.
To add insult to his injury, he was arrested after discharge. After a hearing at Lalbagh court, he was sent to one-month judicial custody. He is now out on bail, and must appear at the court every three months.
In his counter complaint, Mritunjoy’s father Shyam Charan Mondal wrote: “The BSF fired at him despite knowing that he was not involved in any illegal act. It was done to create terror in the locality. The place of occurrence as stated by the BSF is false and fabricated. I have photographs of the place, which is 13 km away from the border.”
Despite all that, no FIR was lodged against the BSF personnel and no probe was conducted. Six months later, Mritunjoy received a showcause notice about the seized soap bars.
Poorer by Rs 80,000, accused of stealing soap, blind in one eye and with an arm hanging useless, he still is one of the lucky few who lived to tell the tale.
‘It’s possible that the BSF killed him to safeguard their jobs’
Noor Hussain, 17
ON HIS last evening in the village, Noor Hussain had talked about Kolkata. A contract labourer in the city, Hussain had just returned home to Brahmottar village in Murshidabad for the Puja season. With no immediate family, he lived about 5 km from the Indo-Bangladesh border with a frail grandmother and uncle, Mustafa Sheikh.
As they listened, Hussain had bragged about working on a 35-storey building: the swanky South City apartments. “It must be the tallest in Kolkata,” he had beamed. In his last project, he had helped build the South City Mall for Rs 120 a day.
Sheikh last saw his nephew at 7 pm on 1 September 2009. At 10.30 pm, Sheikh’s wife Aisha Bibi recalls that Hussain asked for a mug and walked towards the fields. At 10.45 pm, Sheikh heard gunfire. “I thought someone had been shot for smuggling, and went back to sleep.” It wasn’t a surprise; the same month, three villagers had been killed by BSF personnel, says Sheikh. At 12.15 am, he woke up to a second round of firing.
Elsewhere in the village, CPM panchayat member Sadiq-ul-Islam was sleeping when he received a call from the then BSF’S 105 Battalion commander Amrit Lal Jadav. “Someone has been shot. Come and identify the body,” said Jadhav. Islam refused. “What if your men mistake me for a smuggler and shoot me?” he said. Then Jadhav agreed to send some BSF men to accompany him to the spot.
“When I reached, I saw a body lying face down in a pool of blood,” says Islam. At the site were Jadav and border outpost No. 5 commander P Vodra. “He was smuggling cows,” the BSF commander told Islam. “There were three people. They tried to attack us with sickles, so we fired in self-defence. Two others escaped.”
“He was just a kid, he was lying barely 200 m from his house,” Islam told TEHELKA. “That night, smuggling had taken place, there were cow footprints on the mud all over. It’s possible they let the original smugglers go and killed someone to show that they were being honest. It’s possible that they killed him to safeguard their jobs.”
Later that night, at around 1 am, Sheikh heard knocks at his door. It was Islam. “Here, take this,” he said, handing Sheikh a torch. “Your Noor has been killed.” A distraught Sheikh informed other family members. They peered out of their huts. “But we did not dare to step out,” says Sheikh.
The next morning, when Sheikh arrived at the spot, Hussain’s body was still lying face down. They were rifle-butt marks on the neck and a large hole in the back. Some cows had been tied to a tree beside his body. Sheikh was ordered to take Hussain’s body to the police station. He spent Rs 2,000 to rent a car. The body was carried to the Lalgola Police Station and then 20 km to Lalbagh for post-mortem. At the police station, the BSF registered a complaint alleging that Hussain was a cow smuggler and handed over farm implements, sticks and two cows as seized goods.
At the hospital, a series of bribes followed. Rs 400 to the doctor for the autopsy; Rs 200 to the hospital staff for plastic containers; Rs 1,000 to the man to stitch back Hussain’s body. He had demanded Rs 1,500, but they settled for Rs 900 and Rs 100 for alcohol — “he couldn’t do it unless intoxicated” — and Rs 200 to the police constable. After the autopsy, two police officers arrived, clicked pictures of the body, asked Sheikh to sign some papers, and left.
According to the post-mortem report, Hussain was killed “probably by a bullet”. It defines the cause as “the effect of injuries that are ante-mortem in nature”. The injuries are a “¼ diameter round hole on the right side of the back,” and another “¼ diameter round hole on the left side”. After the autopsy, Hussain’s body was handed over to the family. Last rites were performed and the body buried in a graveyard 500 m from the BSF camp.
Hussain’s family is yet to see justice or compensation. “He was the only person in my life,” says his grandmother Safanur Bewa, 70. “He said he would marry, have a house and be responsible for me.” Two years on, Hussain’s room is as it was. Through the cobwebs, light filters in. There is an empty cola bottle and bundles of jute he planned to sell. On the wall are posters brought back from Kolkata. One shows Tollywood actors. The other a fluorescent Taj Mahal, blue birds and a slogan: “Love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.”
They beat him till he fainted and stamped on him’
Peeparul Sheikh, 16
ON OFFICIAL maps, plot No. 2529 is part of Chakmathura village in Murshidabad. But in the strange cartography of the borderline, it falls beyond the ‘BSF road’, beyond the de facto Line of Control, and in a space where India ceases, but where Bangladesh has not yet begun.
On 19 February 2009, Peeparul Sheikh and his cousin Aminul Islam were working at their farm here, located 5 km from the border near Outpost No. 4 manned by BSF constables from the Singhpara camp.
“We were tilling our land when we saw 30-40 cattle smugglers coming our way,” says Islam. “The BSF allowed them to pass. As the cows trampled on our land, we tried to chase them away. Peeparul confronted three BSF jawans from the 90 Battalion, saying, ‘Why are you allowing them through my fields?’ After the smugglers passed, the jawans began to chase us. I ran, but they caught Peeparul and tied him with a rope. Then they beat him till he fainted and stamped on him.”
By then, Islam was hiding, watching from behind a tree. Soon, he heard a gunshot. Realising that Peeparul could not be saved, he fled. Returning home, he alerted the family. However, no one dared to step out in the dark.
The next morning, they reached the plot. A posse of BSF jawans stood around Peeparul’s body; the family wasn’t allowed near it. Soon the body was placed in a jeep and whisked away to Jalangi Police Station for paperwork and then sent for an autopsy.
When Peeparul’s father Najim complained to the police, they first refused to lodge a complaint. “They lodged a written complaint and gave me a copy, but refused to register it as an FIR, or give me a case number,” he says. Najim then bribed a policeman to get the body disposal certificate, a copy of which is with TEHELKA. Armed with this evidence, he returned to the Jalangi Police Station. “Whose death certificate is this?” he asked the officer in charge. “This is your seal isn’t it? Where is the case? How much money have you taken to remain silent?”
Four months later, the police registered a criminal case (No. 245/09) in which BSF head constable Prathap Kumar Chowdhury and 90 Battalion Company Commander Raj Singh were accused of murder. Yet, no one from Peeparul’s family was questioned.
In a month, the police filed a closure report stating that no evidence was found to substantiate Najim’s allegations. An enraged Najim challenged it in the Berhampore district court, which directed the police to reopen the case for further investigation. Again, the police filed a similar report. In August, Peeparul’s father received a court notice asking if he had any objections.
“After investigation, the police has submitted a report saying that no offence has been made out against the accused,” said the notice signed by the Chief Judicial Magistrate, Berhampore.
Meanwhile, a criminal case has been filed at Jalangi Police Station against Peeparul. It was registered after the BSF filed a complaint saying that Peeparul was a cattle smuggler trying to cross the border illegally. In case No. 46/2009 dated 20 February 2009, Peeparul has been booked under Sections 147 (rioting), 148 (rioting armed with deadly weapons), 186 (obstructing a public servant in discharging his function), 353 (assault or use of criminal force to deter a public servant from discharging his duty) and 307 (attempt to murder). The BSF also listed what they recovered from the crime scene: one cow.
The death certificate shows Peeparul’s age as 24. But his family claims that he was a minor. TEHELKA has a copy of his school certificate that shows his date of birth as 1992.
“The BSF says they shot him while he was crossing zero point, but it’s a lie. My fields are part of India,” says an angry Najim. “Don’t Indian laws apply here?”
‘They fired at my son point-blank after an altercation’
Silajit Mondal, 15
Char Rajanagar Village
EVER SINCE she saw her son Silajit Mondal succumb to bullet injuries two years ago, Karma Dasi hasn’t oiled her hair. “I’m going mad,” she says, pulling at the taut grey strands, baring a dry scalp as proof.
23 July 2008 began just like another day in Char Rajanagar, located on the edge of what locals call the ‘BSF road’. In the early morning smog, some villagers walked past an observation point. They were ferrying fertiliser to be sold in Bangladesh.
For almost four months during the monsoon season, several stretches between the BSF road and the border are filled with water. In those parts, the road itself becomes the entry-exit point into Bangladesh, and the mandatory BSF outpost amounts to two jawans patrolling the waters on a speedboat.
That fateful morning, the smugglers crossed the BSF road, loaded their goods on a tin boat and rowed towards Bangladesh. At around 9 am, two jawans were heard screaming from a boat, speeding back to chase a man who was running towards the village. He soon ran past Silajit’s house. The jawans appeared at Silajit’s door, accusing him of crossing the border illegally — without having paid the BSF their cut. Silajit denied he was the man. “The jawans demanded to search the house, but Silajit wouldn’t let them in,” says his father Golak Mondal. “They had a brief altercation. Suddenly, one of them fired at Silajit from point-blank range.”
According to the complaint filed by BSF Company Commander JR Choudhary at the Raninagar Police Station, “On 23 July, constables MM Islam and Ajay Kumar were at Observation Point No. 5 located 2 km from the border. At 12.30 hours, they observed some smugglers loading bags on a boat. On seeing them, the smugglers escaped to Char Rajanagar village. Within a few minutes, 20-25 smugglers along with miscreants came from the nearby village and attacked the OP party with sharpedged weapons. Constable Ashok Singh, who was posted nearby, rushed towards the OP. The smugglers attacked Ashok, who sustained severe injuries. The smugglers tried to snatch Islam’s weapon. They attacked him with a lathi and dah.On sensing imminent danger, he fired in self-defence. One smuggler,Silajeet Mondal, sustained injuries.
On the basis of this complaint, an FIR was lodged at the Raninagar Police Station, booking Silajit “and others”. The ‘others’ include Kanhai Mondal, a human rights worker, who has helped villagers file cases against the BSF. Kanhai continues to live here despite threats.
Silajit’s family also lodged a police complaint. In a rare exception, the police conducted an investigation, but declared that the constable who shot Silajit was untraceable.
Yet, a few weeks after the murder, the “absconding” Islam appeared in civil dress outside Silajit’s door, cash in hand. “I let him in,” says Golak. “I gave him respect. But I did not take the money. How can I sell my son?”
‘One outpost had been paid off but jawans from the other fired’
Yadul Sheikh, 16
Char Rajanagar village
AT THE time of his death, Yadul Sheikh was a Class IX student in Murshidabad’s Mohanganj High School. His family says Yadul was 16. On paper though, he was three years older. “The CPM helped him a get a voter ID card that said he was 19,” says his father Yunus Sheikh. “He used it to vote at the recent Assembly election.”
But neither the card nor the vote was of any help for the lifestyle the youth dreamt of. “We needed pocket money,” says Yadul’s classmate Rashid Sheikh, now 20, “for school tiffin, pens and books, to eat out. Our parents were too poor to afford everything we wanted.”
One night in 2007, the two boys were lazing around in their village, located 5 km from the border, when some strangers approached them. “They offered us Rs 400 to take two cows across the border,” recalls Rashid.
On the night of 21 July 2007, 20 people met at a designated point in the shadow of the BSF border outpost No. 3 near the Mohanganj camp. Some wore jeans, some lungis. Each held a cow. The fog was dense, and it was hard to see beyond the outlines of man and animal. Yadul and Rashid stood patiently, clutching a piece of string, waiting for the signal to cross, the journey that would make them richer by Rs 200 each.
The “line was open” from 10 pm, which meant smuggling would take place with the BSF’s connivance. Rashid does not recall how long they stood still before, suddenly, everyone else began to turn away. But the duo could not be certain. So they began to walk towards Bangladesh. Just as they had taken the first few steps, they heard the sound of racing boots; the BSF men were hunting for them. They abandoned the cows and fled in different directions. As he ran, Rashid heard three rounds of fire.
The next morning when Yadul’s desperate family reached the spot, they found his limp body. A bullet had pierced right through his neck and exited from the back.
An elder relative, who is an active member of the cattle trade, says on the condition of anonymity that BSF constables at outpost No. 3 had indeed “opened the line” that night. The firing seems to have been done by constables of outpost No. 4. TEHELKA cannot verify this independently. The BSF’S 90 Battalion that was manning outpost No. 4 has since been transferred.
Yadul’s family has made no attempts to lodge an FIR. “We did not complain because we are afraid. He was already doing doh numbari (illegal act). What rights do we have?” asks his father Yunus.
Since Yadul’s death, Rashid has stopped participating in the illegal cattle trade. He also dropped out of school and now earns his living by farming. “I try to stop my friends from crossing the border, but they don’t listen to me,” he says.
Tusha Mittal is a Principal Correspondent with Tehelka.