INDIA: To end BSF violence what more does it require?

INDIA: To end BSF violence what more does it require?

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) and its partner organisation, the Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), have been documenting and reporting cases of extreme forms of brutality committed by the Border Security Force (BSF) stationed along the Indo-Bangladesh border in West Bengal state. The latest is a video of extreme torture by the BSF of a civilian that reportedly happened on 16 January 2012. The video shows blood-chilling torture, committed by the BSF. The incident is a shame and the brutality documented alarming, suggesting that the officers require psychiatric assistance, a condition that challenges their very legitimacy to guard the country’s border.

Since the past eight years, MASUM is reporting directly and through international human rights organisations like the AHRC, cases against the BSF to the Indian authorities. So far MASUM has reported about 800 cases. These are cases of torture and other forms of custodial violence, rape, murder, extortion and corruption. The AHRC is not aware of any open and credible action taken against any of the officers mentioned in these cases, though every possible detail has been provided to the authorities.

Every case report includes a narrative of the incident, the name of the BSF officers involved, that of the outpost and battalion where the officers were stationed, the name of the police station having jurisdiction over the place where the incident happened, the name of the witnesses and their statements as recorded by MASUM, and the name and other details of the victim. This information is sent to officers, including but not limited to the Director General of the BSF, Union Home Minister, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), the Chief Minister and Home Minister of West Bengal, Inspector General of Police and the District Magistrate having jurisdiction upon the area where the incident happened. These cases reported globally are available at AHRC’s Urgent Appeals website where cases from India are reported.

Each one of these communication calls for specific actions to be taken in the incident, at the very minimum, recording the complaint of the victim and the statements of the witnesses. However, according to the information available to the AHRC, not in a single case the BSF command has initiated a credible enquiry or taken effective corrective measures against the officers. Neither has the BSF nor the government cared to acknowledge the receipt of these communications. The response from the NHRC also has been thus far disheartening.

The NHRC’s action is always to direct the state police to investigate the case. The reports prepared by the West Bengal state police, always absolve the BSF from responsibility and accuses the victim as a cross-border smuggler or someone who tried attacking the BSF, when stopped for questioning. The AHRC and MASUM have been repeatedly contenting that such reports are farce and would do further damage to the morale of the BSF and of the people living along the Indo-Bangladesh border. The proof is the video.

It is a cruel joke, that the Raninagar police have claimed that they have not investigated the incident, as late as today, since they are yet to get a complaint regarding the event. Perhaps the West Bengal police have a new Criminal Procedure Code that requires them to receive a formal complaint to act upon a gruesome crime. Or is the response underlining the fact that the state police always shy away from taking any action against the BSF? The AHRC has been requesting the Government of West Bengal that it should seriously consider the fact that the rank and file of the state police stationed in areas where the BSF operates is suffering from a high degree of demoralisation.

When the video was aired yesterday through local television channels in West Bengal, the administration has taken ‘action’. This is the suspension of eight BSF officers and the transferring of the District Magistrate (DM) and the Superintendent of Police (SP) of Murshidabad district. While the response is appreciated, the AHRC is of the opinion that this is not enough.

The official defensive statement by the BSF, that the video could be as old as 15 years, is nothing but irresponsibility in print. The security agency that is mandated to protect the country’s border should have the minimum knowledge, that mobile telephones with a camera, now though common, was exceptionally rare 15 years ago. The BSF does not have a case that their officers exposed in the video are serving in the same outpost for the past 15 years. If the video is not of an incident that happened on 16 January, then on what reason was the officers stationed at Charmurasi border outpost suspended?

The video shows officers, identifiable in person, violating every code of their operative mandate, in some of the most brutal and inhuman manner. It shows the alarming wilt of discipline among the officers. Any agency, having such sick officers posted on duty has serious reasons to consider overhauling its operative structure to ensure basic discipline. In the BSF however, such actions are unlikely to happen. At the most the case would end, probably after a decade, with some punitive actions taken against the officers who are now placed under suspension.

The DM and the SP, of Murshidabad should have known that such incidents are common. They cannot content otherwise, since the MASUM and the AHRC together have sent these officers some 800 cases during the past eight years. These two officers have the legal responsibility to answer for what is in the video since had their office been diligent enough such incidents would not have repeated. In a case reported by the AHRC and MASUM on 19 October 2012, the victim in the case was stoned to death by the BSF. The incident happened within the jurisdiction of Raninagar Police Station. No action has been taken on this case so far. The details of the case are available at AHRC-UAC-210-2011.

The Inspector General (IG) of the BSF is also responsible for the incident since the IG’s office is bound by ‘command responsibility’. In the same vein, the Inspector-General commanding the South Bengal Frontier unit of the BSF and the Commandant and under whom the officers involved in the incident served are also to be punished. Command responsibility is no legal fiction. It is legal norm, which applies in this case without exception.

Most importantly the question that needs to be answered now is that what allows the BSF to perpetuate such horrendous forms of violence against unarmed civilians? Had the BSF been operating in compliance with the Border Security Force Act, 1968 and its Rules 1969, such incidents would not have happened. It shows that discipline and commitment to duty is not ensured within the rank and file in the force. Violence by the BSF against unarmed civilians and other forms of corruption and crimes committed by the BSF with impunity is a threat to the border security of the nation. Such a BSF is a threat to the entire country.

If experience were of any value, one need to see whether, at least in this occasion there would be a transparent investigation and adjudication. If national security is of any interest to the government, it should prove it by taking actions in all cases reported to the government, of crimes committed by the BSF. The AHRC is willing to once again submit to the Government of India a dossier containing details of the cases documented by the AHRC involving the BSF.


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