Thursday, January 19, 2012

The horror that haunts Habibur

The horror of December 9, 2011 still haunts Habibur Rahman, the 22-year-old cattlerunner at Satera Rashiya of Shibganj in Chapainawabganj, who was brutally tortured by India’s Border Security Force at Mairashi camp in Murshidabad after being stripped for failing to pay them Tk 2,000 in ‘bribe.’

‘It seemed to me that it was the end of my life.… I have never faced such a brutality,’ he said heaving a long sigh inside his house on Thursday evening.

Habibur said that even after more than a month,  he was yet to recover as he still feels pain in joints and muscles. ‘I can now walk and but the memories keep haunting me.’

‘What should I say?’ he said when he was asked about how he was feeling. ‘I think I have got another life.’

In the whole one month, nobody from the government had inquired about him; hje was rather once summoned to the local camp of the Border Guard Bangladesh and they inquired about only what happened, he said. ‘But local journalists visited me.’

Habibur could not continue with studies after Class VIII as his farmer father could not pay for his education. Habibur’s father Saidur Rahman has only two bighas of land. Habibur used to sell an array of commodities including cosmetics, toys, tableware, etc in neighborhoods.

He also had left home with his commodities two days before he was tortured. Along the Rajshahi border, a smuggler offered him to bring his cattle inside the Bangladesh territory through the Mairashi point. Usually, smugglers pay Rs 1,000 for bringing a couple cows into Bangladesh in the area, he said. ‘I was in need of the money and accepted the offer.’

‘It was 11:00pm and was returning with the cattle. The BSF men stopped me at Mairashi camp and demanded Tk 2,000, torchlight and mobile . I told them I had nothing with me,’ he said.

‘Immediately after, they started beating me with their rifles and bamboo sticks and at one point they stripped me and tied both the hands. I fell at their feet and begged mercy but they did not spare me,’ Habibur said.
‘As I was crying, the intensity of torture increased. They were coming one after another and severely thrashed. At one point I fell unconscious,’ he added.

Habibur said that the Indian border guards left him unconscious in a rice field totally naked with hands tied up.
‘It was about dawn when I woke up and found that I was lying in the field. I could not move because of pain and even then I I tried to advance and found some people. They wrapped me with a piece of cloth and took me to a nearby house. I crossed the border in the morning,’ he said. 

‘All I want is to see those people punished. How can they beat a man like this?’ he said.

New Delhi orders full probe into BSF torture: spokesman

India on Thursday said it ordered a full investigation into the recent torture on a Bangladeshi by their Border Security Force men and the authorities of the paramilitary frontier force took ‘prompt actions’ in suspending the personnel concerned.

‘BSF has taken prompt action to suspend BSF jawans involved in the incident and full investigations have been ordered into the matter,’ a spokesman of the India’s external affairs ministry said in a brief comment as video footage of the torture posted online sparked wide reactions in Bangladeshi as well as Indian media.

His comments came as media reports said BSF already suspended eight of its soldiers after the video, showing a man being stripped, kicked and beaten in West Bengal’s Murshidabad district along the Bangladesh-India border, was posted.

Several leading newspapers including the Hindu, The Times of India and Hindustan Times published prominently the news item while Indian television channels, including NDTV and Times Now repeatedly aired the footage that showed three to four BSF personnel beating up a man and tying him with sticks.

The Hindu reported that BSF suspended the men by late on Wednesday and they were identified as constables Virender Tiwari, VS Victor, Dhananjay Kumar, Anand Singh, Amar Jyoti, Sanjeev Kumar, Suresh Chand and Sunil Kumar.

‘The eight personnel have been identified and suspended,’ Deputy Inspector General at BSF headquarters Vikas Chandra told the newspaper.

BSF public relations officer T Acharya earlier said the news video clipping showing ‘violent and illegal conduct by three-four men in uniform in the area of Murshidabad, West Bengal has been taken note of by BSF headquarters.’

‘A detailed staff court-of-inquiry has been ordered to fix responsibility and take action under BSF Act and rules for this misconduct,’ he said.

Acharya added that the commandant of 105 Battalion, to which the suspended personnel belong, was been asked to immediately visit the spot and ascertain full details of the incident.

The Hindu termed the video as ‘shocking’ and said the footage of the suspected cattle rustler, stripped, bound and beaten up allegedly by BSF jawans in the Raninagar police station area near the Indo-Bangladesh border in West Bengal’s Murshidabad district has created uproar.’

According to the NDTV, the grainy video was downloaded from the mobile phone of a BSF personnel who had given it to a mobile shop owner for downloading ringtone and the mobile shop owner made a CD of the video and sent it to news channels and rights groups.

Dhaka protests

Dhaka yesterday officially lodged protest with New Delhi over an incident of torture of a Bangladeshi man by the Indian Border Security Force last month.

"The Government of Bangladesh has conveyed its utter dismay about the incident to the Indian side. It has protested such abusive and violent action by BSF personnel despite repeated assurance from the Indian leadership about exercize of utmost restraint by BSF personnel," said a Bangladesh foreign ministry press release. 

"The Ministry has also requested the concerned authorities of India to conduct a thorough enquiry into the incident and take appropriate action against the BSF personnel responsible for the abusive and violent action. The Ministry has also requested for immediate action to prevent such and other violent incidents from recurring in future," the release added.

The protest was conveyed through the Indian high commission in Dhaka.

Different Indian TV channels including NDTV aired a video on Wednesday showing several BSF personnel beating up a stripped off Bangladeshi man, tying his hands at the back to a stick in Murshidabad district of Paschimbanga.

A senior official of the Bangladesh foreign ministry said yesterday, "We are highly disappointed with such a barbaric incident. We have asked Border Guard Bangladesh to give an inquiry report immediately."

The official said BGB already identified the victim and the investigation report is expected to reach the foreign ministry very soon.

"The incident is very unfortunate and we are disappointed," Mashfee Binte Shams, director general (South Asia) of the foreign ministry, told The Daily Star.

Reporting on the Indian authorities' move, our New Delhi correspondent quoted a spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs as saying, "BSF has taken prompt action to suspend its jawans involved in the incident, and full investigations have been ordered into the matter."

"Eight personnel have been identified and suspended pending enquiry," said Vikas Chandra, deputy inspector general at the BSF headquarters.

The suspended jawans have been identified as constables Birender Tiwari, VS Victor, Dhananjay Kumar Rai, Anand Singh, Amar Jyoti, Sanjeev KR, Suresh Chand, and Sunil Kumar.

They belong to the 105th battalion of BSF, and the incident took place at the Charmurasi border outpost.
A staff court of inquiry has been ordered by the BSF inspector general of the South Bengal Frontier to probe the incident.

"Vijay Kumar, commandant of BSF's 119 battalion, who is from a sector other than the place where the incident had happened, has been detailed to conduct the probe," a statement issued by the BSF headquarters said yesterday.

BSF sources said BGB will be requested to bring the victim to the zero-line for questioning and recording of a statement, and the enquiry report is expected to be submitted soon.

They said "strict disciplinary action" will be taken against the eight jawans based on the findings of the enquiry.

Torture for mobile, torchlight, Rs 1,000

Not having a mobile phone, torchlight and a thousand rupees as bribe almost cost the life of a Bangladeshi who was caught on camera while being tortured by Indian border guards.

Stripping him, the jawans of Border Security Force (BSF) tied his hands and legs and beat him up before dumping his unconscious body in a mustard field near Raninagar camp in Murshidabad district of Paschimbanga. 

"When I opened my eyes, I was not sure if I was alive. I rested in the mustard field for a while to pull myself together. Though I was unable to move due to the excessive beating, I forced myself to get up and headed towards home," the victim said.

He estimated that he was about five to seven kilometres into the Indian Territory.

Habibur Rahman, 22, son of one Saidur Rahman of Sateroroshia village under Shibganj upazila of Chapainawabganj, used to smuggle cattle from India. He had never been caught by the BSF in his one-year stint as a smuggler until December 9 last year, the day he experienced his worst nightmare.

The video footage of the BSF torture that had been aired by different television channels in India, including NDTV, sent a shock wave across the nation.

The Daily Star yesterday interviewed Habibur at Monakosha border out post in Chapainawabganj.
On December 9 morning, 10-12 men, including Habibur, sneaked into Murshidabad district through Khanpur border in Paba upazila of Rajshahi to fetch some cattle as instructed by a Bangladeshi trader. 

"We found no cattle when we reached the rendezvous point. So, we started back for home," said Habibur, adding that it was around 11:00pm when the BSF men caught him with two others.

"They demanded Rs 1,000, a mobile phone and torchlight from me. As I said I did not have those, they started kicking and punching me. But that was only the trailer of what to happen next. They took me to their camp at Raninagar on a tractor," he said.

Habibur was wearing a lungi, a pink shirt and a jacket. 

"The real beating began the next morning," said Habibur, "Two jawans stripped me, tied my hands at the back to a stick. They also tied the legs. Then they started to beat me up with a stick." Habibur still looked in shock when he was describing the BSF brutality.

"As I fell on the ground, three of them indulged in beating me up indiscriminately," said Habibur failing to hold his tears.

The video footage of the Indian TV channels and on website matches the description of the victim.
"At one point, one of them sat on my abdomen and held my feet up while another hit me on the bare sole with a stick. The torture continued for at least an hour," he said, adding that the jawans then dragged him a few yards, pulled him up and asked him to walk on his own.

"But I blacked out and fell down. A few hours later, I found myself lying in a mustard field," the victim said, adding that 

He showed his injuries marks on the face, hands, legs and the back.

On his return, Habibur did not dare to go to a hospital fearing more ordeals. He chose traditional treatment.
About his former profession, Habibur said each cattle smuggler get Tk 1,000 for bringing a pair of cattle and one could bring up to six cows in each trip.

Pointing out that chances are high for cattle smugglers to get caught, he said BSF men let them go in exchange bribes.

After reports were published in different newspapers and television channels, BGB officials also met the victim yesterday. 

“We tracked him at his home in Sateroroshia village,” Lt Col Jahangir Hossain, commanding officer of 39 BGB Battalion in Chapainawabganj, told The Daily Star.