Shuddhabrat Sengupta, Kafila.Org
So, this is how the borders of the Republic of India are also defended. With sticks, ropes and bluetooth enabled mobile phones. Eight soldiers of the Border Security Force, hold down a young Bangladeshi man accused of cattle smuggling. He is stripped naked, hogtied and then thrashed. He screams in agony and humiliation. The soldiers act as if they are out on a picnic. They discuss whether or not to give him some tea. Where to hurt him, on which body parts. How big a stick to use on him. Someone says “cut his ear off”. They stroll casually around him as he is humiliated. They laugh. He cries, as people usually do in these circumstances, and seems to call for his mother. Someone, probably one of the soldiers, records it all on video, on the 9th of December, 2010, somewhere along the Indo-Bangladesh border in Murshidabad, West Bengal
I am not embedding the video, which is as of now, still available on Youtube and circulating through Facebook Forwards because I feel the images it contains are a little too disturbing to upload on a blog like Kafila. However, all you have to do to see it is to type ‘INDIA:Violence by the BSF at Murshidabad” in the Youtube search bar. Viewer discretion is strongly advised.
If you do access the footage online I urge you to remember that this video was taken with the express intention of humiliating the man who is shown being beaten. It is my request that readers of Kafila, and anyone else who comes across this text (and I can do nothing other than request here) refrain from doing anything that might add to the Bangladeshi man’s humiliation while they watch the footage, if they choose to open the link.
The soundtrack you hear is chilling. One of the BSF men, perhaps the man who is filming, (because his voice sounds like it is closest to the recording device), says –
“don’t give him tea in our utensils, and wash it out, if he uses it. The sisterfucker, eats cows, the motherfucker”.
One of the other soldiers, he is one of those doing the actual thrashing, asks the person filming to make sure that he has him on camera as he humiliates their captive. He and another soldier pose, like hunters with a trophy. One of them plants one well-shod foot on the prone, naked man. The soldier who asks to be photographed, makes another request to the man doing the filming. He wants it ‘bluetoothed’ to him. And so it goes on. And on. The recording lasts five minutes.
It is alleged that the man was tortured because he refused to pay the soliders at the BSF picket a bribe. If this is true then it becomes especially interesting to observe that the torturer-in-chief, who is so piously offended at beef-eating that he wants anything that touches the offender’s body to be ‘cleansed’ after contact is so eager to take a bribe that he has no moral compunction in unleashing (as punishment) a little bit of non-consensual recreational (for him and his mates) sadism on the side when he is refused one. Is this the kind of sophisticated and nuanced moral sense that prevails amongst responsible members of our security forces stationed at the border?
The Hindu carries a fair and honest report of this incident. And the NDTV report (below) says much of what needs to be said.
It is heartening to see that this story was broken by sections of the mainstream media, and in a welcome departure from the norm, no attempt at whitewashing the culprits was made this time. The Daily Star, a newspaper from Dhaka, Bangladesh has a comprehensive report of the incident, and names the eight BSF jawans we see in the video. The journalists who filed these reports, and the editors who let them through, deserve our gratitude.
But there has been a surprisingly mute response by way of commentary or public discussion. Remember the kilobytes of outrage that poured out of every media orifice when a few Indian students were attacked in Australia? But then, they were Indians, and that was Australia. It would be fair to say that had this happened somewhere else, heads would have rolled. There would have been demands that the minister concerned, in this case, Mr. P. Chidambaram, resign. I have not heard of the Indian state offering the people of Bangladesh the courtesy of an apology. And if an apology has been articulated, I haven’t heard it being said loud enough. If this had happened to an animal, Menaka Gandhi would have toppled two governments by now.
Nothing of that sort has occurred, as yet. Yes, a senior BSF officer has stated that the eight jawans have been suspended with immediate notice, and an enquiry is underway, and that if found guilty, they will be punished. We need to ask whether this is enough.
This is not an an exceptional occurrence. Perhaps in this case the young man being humiliated survived his ordeal. I hope so, because he may just as well not have. Gratuitous violence by the Border Security Force on the India-Bangladesh Border is a systematic and ongoing phenomenon. This has been well documented.
‘Trigger Happy : Excessive Use of Force by Indian Troops at the Bangladesh Border” a report jointly prepared by Human Rights Watch, and two human rights activists organizations from West Bengal (MASUM) and Bangladesh (Odhikar) lists 315 killings of Bangladeshis by the BSF at the India-Bangladesh Border between 2007 and June 20110 alone.
Subsequent to the publication of this report (which went largely unnoticed in the media in India), Human Rights Watch says in a statement that the Government of India agreed to draw up guidelines for BSF soldiers not to use lethal weapons at the border. Consequently, while initially, the number of deaths did decrease, the old pattern of killings at the border soon re-established itself. The only difference was, now, the soldiers were not shooting people dead, (because they had orders not to use bullets) they were simply beating them to death, or otherwise torturing them, and sometimes these instances of torture did end in death. Whenever this happened, the bodies would be ‘thrown across the border’.
I have written (in an earlier posting – Kashmir’s Abu Ghraib) about the specific genre of pornography that is produced by people in uniform across the world. We all remember the videos of young men being stripped naked and humiliated by security forces personnel in Kashmir that came to surface in 2010. There was, at that time a concerted effort made by unknown agencies to take those videos off from Facebook and Youtube. Home Minister, P Chidambaram denied that they even existed. No departmental enquiry was ordered. No one was suspended. No one punished. But the one thing that those videos (from Kashmir) and this video (from the Bangladesh border) do demonstrate is that there does seem to be a ‘culture’ within the security forces that has, or finds, a place for these kinds of actions. The casualness with which the recordings are made, and the torture undertaken, suggest that what is going on is nothing exceptional.
These are not the deeds of a few ‘bad apples’. The suspension, or even dismissal of eight BSF personnel is not going to make this go away. There is a clear pattern of authority between the torturers, some of them give orders, others act on them.
These are not wild young men on the loose, with no authority supervising their actions. These are soldiers going about their business. Perhaps it is time for us to consider that this might in fact be the norm. At the very least we have to admit that there seems to have been no effective input in the training of these soldiers that has discouraged this sort of activity. Is it also appropriate for us to ask whether that great Indian pastime of ‘stripping and parading’ all kinds of vulnerable people, dalits, dalit women, and others through the streets of towns and villages that we hear about ever so often is some kind of repressed meme that suddenly replicates itself in other instances where power meets its objects – in police lock ups, interrogation rooms, ‘border areas’ and other liminal zones.
It this is the case, then this kind of behavior will probably continue, and the only way for the state to deal with this reality is to try and enforce a lock down on the internet to prevent its secret sense of impunity from being more of what it already is – a public secret. It is not accidental that the state in India seems to be in an impatient haste to crack down on the internet. A judge asks, while deliberating on the recent private complaint against Facebook and Google, on the grounds that some webpages offend the religious sentiments of the population - “if they can be closed down in China, why can’t they be shut down in India ?” How convenient that would be for the brave hearts of the Border Security Force. They could then blue tooth their gonzo blue films to each other with ease, only we would never know.
If it is legitimate to consider the shutting down of vast stretches of the internet to assuage the injured sentiments of some, it is, in my considered view, equally, if not actually more legitimate to demand the shutting down of the state because its acts are monotonously injurious (and sometimes lethally so) not just to the sentiments, but to the bodies and dignities of many.
Time for an annoying question, and I mean to be annoying, really annoying. So, if an enquiry can be ordered about the Bangladesh Border incident, why can an enquiry not be ordered about what was filmed in Kashmir? Perhaps because it is kind of important not to annoy Bangladeshis more than they have been annoyed already. After all, there might be another attempt at an ‘anti-India’ coup. One was being plotted in the last few weeks. (We and the people of Bangladesh have reason to be genuinely grateful that they are not waking up to yet another spell of military rule.) So, better to admit that something terrible indeed happened. Grit one’s teeth and await the oblivion of an ‘enquiry’, because under the BSF act, generally speaking, only the BSF can act against and investigate its own men. No prosecution of BSF personnel is possible except by the express permission of the Union Home Ministry. I do not know if that permission has ever been granted.
In a discussion on Times Now last evening on the foiled coup attempt in neighboring Bangladesh. A former diplomat on the panel made a discreet suggestion that the BSF Bluetooth Blunder at the Bangladesh Border was an unfortunate turn of events. She felt, correctly, that the exposure of the footage might have contributed to damaging India’s ‘image’ in Bangladesh, and therefore we ought to be grateful that an ‘anti-India’ military coup had been averted. She was thoughtful while she said this.
Without batting an eyelid, a few minutes later, Arnab Goswami, expressing concern at the volatility of ‘our neighborhood’ stated the following (around 5:00 in the Newshour video fragment linked to above) - “We cannot let this state of anarchy continue in Bangladesh because it is the chicken’s neck that connects all of the North East with India…if China can have military bases in South Asian region, naval bases in Pakistan…Sri Lanka…simple question is, why cannot India have a stronger military or naval presence – in Bangladesh?”. I suppose he was so excited by the thought of BSF soldiers humiliating Bangladeshi cattle traders that he could not resist vocalizing his desire to see Indian security forces personnel humiliate and virtually rape the entire population of Bangladesh, as they do so well in this video with one man when they get hold of him. After all, if the Pakistani army had done this so successfully in the years leading up to 1971. Why should the Indian army not be allowed full freedom to do the same ? What the Pakistani Army can do, in the imagined South Asia of Arnab Goswami’s dream, the Indian Army can do, oh so much better.
Despite (or should I say because of) the inspiring presence of Arnab Goswami in our lives, one can still pause to imagine what the shape of justice might be in response to a situation like this. Remember, it is just six weeks to Republic Day. The spit and polish, pomp and circumstance of the Indian state will be on proud display. There will be tanks and floats and folk dancers, air-crafts in formation, brass brands and marching squads. Imagine just how appropriate it would be if this time, the BSF contingent were to be led by the eight men who stripped and humiliated a Bangladeshi man in Murshidabad district. We should not be denied the inspiring sight of them marching proudly, hog-tied, with bluetooth enabled mobile phones clasped between their teeth, naked, in the cold delhi morning of the 26th of January. Perhaps they could jerk their heads once in salute, biting precisely into the button on their phones that could blue-tooth their brave deeds to the world as they passed the president’s podium. Every Indian would see it on TV and on their mobile phones. We all need to know how well our borders are being defended.