Abuses by India’s Border Security Force; Questions about Media Coverage

Via the New York Times blog, The Lede, I’ve been looking at a number of links regarding India’s Border Security Force (BSF). The starting point for the coverage in the Times was the news in the Deccan Herald that 178 women have, for the first time, joined the force. But the real story The Lede blogger, Robert Mackey, is interested in are the numerous reports of abuses by the BSF, specifically the killing of unarmed people on both sides of the India-Bangladesh border, including both Bangladeshis and Indian citizens. The Lede embeds the following BBC Channel 4 report on the abuses, which is pretty horrifying:

There is obviously a huge problem when the BSF can shoot unarmed people with impunity. But this report by Jonathan Rugman also has some problems, which need to be addressed.

First, how big a problem is it? The numbers are a little confusing. The BSF itself reports 5000 “militants/extremists” killed since 1990, but there is pretty clear evidence that they are under-reporting total deaths (perhaps they simply aren’t reporting deaths of unarmed people at all). For the Channel 4 reporter at least, it was relatively easy to find many villagers on both sides of the border with relatives who had been killed — who were obviously not “militants/extremists.”

That said, there are some problems in the story above, and in Robert Mackey’s blog post about it. One is the inclusion of footage from a “BSF Recruiting video” by both reporters. In fact, you can see the video on YouTube, and it seems highly unlikely to me that “Kashsoldier,” the author of the video, is putting together his various amateur videos for official Indian military use. I wonder why they think his videos are official recruiting videos? Amy I missing something? (Would the Indian armed forces really be using American heavy metal music to recruit Indian soldiers?)

Second, in the Channel 4 coverage I linked to above, there is a good deal of what seems like irrelevant material inserted, confusing the story. The historical references to partition, and footage of places where the border between India and Bangladesh is a mere alleyway, do not relate to the people being shot around the fence. If I understand the story correctly, people are not being shot in those alleys.

Finally, the reporter, Jonathan Rugman, doesn’t really attempt to bring the two issues discussed in the story together in an adequate way. On the one hand, he is interested in the massive border fence between India and Bangladesh that is being constructed. But he is also interested in the BSF’s frequent killing of unarmed villagers, who are either crossing the border illegally, or simply working on land that happens to be a little too close to the fence. But is there a connection between the two issues? Have the numbers of killings shot up since the fence was constructed? One presumes that is what has happened, but Rugman also mentions that the BSF has been much more aggressive since the 11/26 attacks in Mumbai. So which is the main cause of these killings of unarmed people?

I’m not saying the report about the BSF isn’t still chilling. But Jonathan Rugman’s coverage of leaves something to be desired; a supporter of the Indian military might be able to find some holes.

118 thoughts on “Abuses by India’s Border Security Force; Questions about Media Coverage

  1. Interesting discussion. I note a few things:

    1) I acknowledged the legitimate issue of the discrimination against Hindus Ahmadis women and others in Bangladesh, but was met with the claim that this is never acknowledged, personal sneers, etc. That’s a super public relations tactic ;) let alone a tactic for increasing awareness of a social justice issue like minority rights in Bangladesh.

    2) SM is an Indian American blog in substance if not label. I’m not going to get into a big fight about whether this is the case or not and I’m SURE that none of the bloggers want to either. So if you want to raise an issue about why a particular minority community in Bangladesh, pakistan, Sri Lanka, or anywhere else besides India or the United States has not received attention, then you should probably take that into consideration. And SM does a better job than most of the rest of the media! (but not PTR :P

    3) Just because you disagree with both Amardeep and I, that does not mean we have the same political outlook, concerns, or frameworks.

    4) I pointed you to several resources that address quite forcefully over the last decade (to the extent that any issues in the extraordinarily neglected country of Bangladesh are addressed in writing from outside) over time. It is not because Hindus are being neglected but because Bangladesh is being neglected. Bangladesh faces major issues from overpopulation to climate change to poior governance to minority rights infringements (Hindus, Ahmadis, LGBT peopleand others) to gender issues. Same with India. Same with Pakistan. For example, just yesterday, several Christians were killed in Pakistan – perhaps if the singleminded focus on what Hindus face was made more substantial and included countries besides Pakistan and Bangladesh, your claims and points would be taken more seriously.

    5) Somehow, Arundhati Roy is expected to speak on Bangladeshi Hindus, but Taslima Nasrin’s concern for them is wholly not acknowledged. People tend to write about the places they identify with (see comment above). However, I agree, that among the thousands and thousands of other hyuman rights issues that are brought to light,

    6) Of course I would not read the Hindu American foundation report in detail. I don’t believe that the Hindu American Foundation is legitimately interested in the welfare of human beings as a whole, though that does’t mean their specific facts are wrong. It means I distrust them and it would take many steps to bridge that gap and establish on both sides a mutual level of respect.

    7) Hindu and Hindutva are not the same. There are many Hindus or people who speak to Hindus or people who were raised Hindu- like Vijay Prashad, whom you likely hate, or me, or many others, who will actively address issues of Hinduism. The trouble is that usually people who seek to speak in the name of Hinduism a) don’t know wtf they’re talking about and b) are so singlemindedly focused on Hinduism and alleged and rael oppression of people who are Hindu and c) are completely comfortable accepting links with groups that have murdered, displaced, and otherwise harmed nonHindus, women, LGBT people, etc., that it becomes difficult to have a conversation. For example, claims like ‘Hindus don’t eat meat’ or defenses of Modi’s actions in Gujarat are exactly what drive secular Hindus or human rights critics or arguments about whether the Buddha took his material from the Gita or whether the Taj Mahal was built on the remains of a Hindu shrine and therefore … what? Exactly what are you asking from others? That they adopt your mindset and therefore always write about the issues you want?

    8) Relatedly, this was a thread about Indo-Bangladeshi border relations, but has now been hijacked into a discussion about Hindutva and whether or not different people pay attention to what has happened to Hindus in Bangladesh. That is a) not atypical and b) completely counterproductive in actually engaging this space. I know this from personal experience. Start your own blog.

    9) If you try to describe the real world, the idea that there are attacks on Hindus everywhere is ridiculous. There are attacks on minority groups everywhere. Indian fundamentalists burn Christian priests. pakistani fundaentalists attack Muslis for not being Muslim enough. Bangladeshi fundamentalists attack Hindus and Ahmadis. That is the common thread, in a broader contexxt of a cultural comunalism that pervades all three countries. So if you REALLY care about what happens to Bangladeshis – Hindu and not Hindu – or even if you only care about bangladeshi Hindus, I suggest you go meet them, and also Bangladeshi Ahmadis, Bangladeshi Buddhists, Bangladeshi Christians, etc., that you find out more about the history and politics and society and culture of Bangladesh, abotu how political organisation and other social structures play a role, about who is benefiting and who is not, about who is good at gaining power and who is not, about why these kinds of trends occur, about regional context – like why the incidents documented in Lajja (which apparently doesn’t exist for some reason in the eyes of people who say that no one cares about anything that has happened to bangladeshi Hindus) occur in very similar form in India and paksitan as well, the colonial historyu, and other things.

    Then, someone might take seriously that you care deeply about Bangladeshi Hindus. I would be interested in hearing from those who express such a strong interest in this issue exactly what it is they have done about it other than carping on SM abotu how it is not covered enough, and that in a most counterproductive way. Whether through intent or through accidental effects created, you are contributing to a situation where the issues of Bangladeshi Hindus in all their human dimensions – personal, social, mental, phyiscal – will actually be less focused on as real issues and more focused on as just another ideological war between ‘secularists’ (who generally are not always secular) and ‘Hindutvaites’ (who often misunderstand Hinduism and have more in common with Jamaat in how they think about the world than with the bulk of Hindus in the world and certainly the American diaspora which is who you are presumably addressing here).

  2. and whither the post on bangladeshi hindus? a simple search will show you that there were none on genocide in bangladesh.

    Actually, I did talk about the treatment of Hindus in East Pakistan the 1971 war in my review of Tahmima Anam’s A Golden Age. I’m sure it won’t satisfy you, but the post is there. A revised version of the review was also published in the nationalism-oriented magazine Pragati here (PDF).

    Also, for reference, a couple of posts on Taslima Nasreen: one, two. (They’re not strictly relevant to this discussion, but it seems like there are some new readers here.)

  3. a. hindus don’t eat beef (cattle provide beef) b. even hindus seem to believe hindus don’t eat meat.

    Yeah right.. :-)

    But the article says Hindus don’t eat meat (not specifically beef) and cattle the last time I checked the dictionary refers to not just cows and Hindus definitely eat the meat of goats. I wont worry too much about Rajan Zed. I’d rather rely on the percentage of Hindus who eat meat.

    The above blog / article by Channel 4 is a hit job on BSF and I am trying to figure out the motives of Channel 4.

  4. catholics don’t use contraception

    he..he.. So condoms must be smuggled from Catholic nations.

  5. There is no point in discussing why this or that human rights issue is not covered. Even though people claim they are unbiased that is mostly untrue. Everyone is biased one way or the other whether for Hindus/Muslims/Christians/Atheists or the other peculiar category of “secular progressives” who quickly claim anyone who questions their stand as “Hindutvadis”.

  6. There is no point in discussing why this or that human rights issue is not covered.

    Well, there is if you’re interested in human rights, the media, and the NGO industry or indeed what drives people to argue that this or that human rights issue is not covered :)

    For example, this 2006 article on Western Sahara is very interesting:

    TINDOUF, Algeria—If any part of you wants to believe that the world is fundamentally just, that wrongs are eventually righted, and that those of us in the West are fair and righteous in the way we treat other countries and cultures, consider the story of the people of Western Sahara. Their history proves that you can have right wholly on your side, international law emphatically in support of your cause, be on the agenda of the U.N. Security Council for decades, and still be ignored. … This is the ultimate and depressing lesson of the Western Sahara. Whatever anyone tells you about “values” such as democracy or rights being the organizing principles of Western diplomacy, the world is still run according to the dismal calculus of “interests” and realpolitik. Morocco is with us, so the Sahrawis can go to hell. And, frankly, hell is a pretty accurate description of those refugee camps in the Sahara.

    If you google “slate” and “western sahara” you can find this article fairly easily (in top 10).

  7. “Your standard for decency is the migration policy of the U.S. during a period of paranoia?”

    Dr A, My standard of decency might be low but I wont go around telling Americans how to guard their borders when they are under attack, unlike you who seem to know what is good for us natives.

  8. . There are plenty of Hindu communities that have always traditionally eaten beef. Somewhere along the way, the idea of “Hinduism” became more or less according to certain factions’ interpretations.

    Can you list at least 5 such communities and the historical records of when they first started eating beef? Or at least give the time frame for how long they can be traced eating beef?

    RE: Muslims and Hindus, pork and beef — as an extended olive branch to both communities, the GoI should pass laws that both pork and beef eating are outlawed in India, in the name of religious harmony.

  9. Dr A

    1.You haven’t entirely been a paragon of civility while describing people who don’t fit your belief system, so please don’t be so sour about public relations. It works both ways. As for Bangla speakers being ‘allegedly’ denied ration cards and what not in Delhi, I know plenty of them, from my own driver and his extended family to very upper class family friends, and I haven’t come across this before.

    2.We know what SM is about. Please don’t involve it in your personal ideological battles.

    1. You are correct. You and Amardeep are two completely different personalities. Nobody is even comparing the two of you.

    4.

    perhaps if the singleminded focus on what Hindus face was made more substantial and included countries besides Pakistan and Bangladesh, your claims and points would be taken more seriously.

    Why?

    5.

    Hindu and Hindutva are not the same.

    So far so good…. But then you bring out your broadest brush…

    usually people who seek to speak in the name of Hinduism a) don’t know wtf they’re talking about and b) are so singlemindedly focused on Hinduism and alleged and rael oppression of people who are Hindu and c) are completely comfortable accepting links with groups that have murdered, displaced, and otherwise harmed nonHindus, women, LGBT people, etc., that it becomes difficult to have a conversation

    Exactly what are you asking from others? That they adopt your mindset and therefore always write about the issues you want?- your questions, directed towards you.

    6

    .If you try to describe the real world, the idea that there are attacks on Hindus everywhere is ridiculous.

    Not everywhere. Please don’t exaggerate.

    Indian fundamentalists burn Christian priests. pakistani fundaentalists attack Muslis for not being Muslim enough. Bangladeshi fundamentalists attack Hindus and Ahmadis. That is the common thread, in a broader contexxt of a cultural comunalism that pervades all three countries.

    Bangladesh, Pakistan and India are not the same. They may all be flawed societies with inequalities, but to insinuate that Indian Muslims (or Christians, Sikhs and other minority religious groups) face the kind of institutionalised discrimination that can make their numbers drop from 14% to 2% in 60 years is a bit of a joke.

    7.Very presumptuous of you to think that all of us are armchair warriors sitting around our fat haunches while you toil away where the action is. Have you ever been to Western Sahara?

  10. Always amused by how much many POIs hate India and Hindus.It must be terrible to hate your own and always worry about someone else’s rights, to show your credentials. Never see Italian/Belgian etc. origin folk badmouth their own people, colonizers, etc. And the Chinese and Jews are too intelligent to hit themselves nonstop. What does it achieve? Just the great feeling that American born teenagers get when they describe their parents as terrible? Can anything constructive be achieved?

    The sad part is many NRIs who had a good chilodhhod, got a good subsidized education, never feel any real need to contribute back. They do seem to feel a strong need to belong to the group of India haters. I just wish you all could get skin grafts and be happy. No will identify you as Indian.

  11. Can you list at least 5 such communities and the historical records of when they first started eating beef? Or at least give the time frame for how long they can be traced eating beef?

    As part of my professional interests, I come across (and pick up) books such as these to understand the ecology and epidemiology of anthrax deaths in people in India: See last paragraph, 2nd column, page 120 of book ‘Food, ecology, and culture’.

    Perhaps the rest of the chapter is not exactly what you are looking for…still, it is an interesting chapter overall.

  12. RE: Muslims and Hindus, pork and beef — as an extended olive branch to both communities, the GoI should pass laws that both pork and beef eating are outlawed in India, in the name of religious harmony.

    Terrible idea for multiple reasons. Pork’s a big part of many local economies. It’s also a traditional dish in many parts of Karnataka, and all over the completely alienated North East. I’m sure you could make the same argument for beef. Depriving people of their favourite foods isn’t going to foster goodwill.

    A blanket, nationwide ban on anything that offends one religious group is going to lead to demands by every single religious group, and our government damn well give in to all if it gives in to one. Bad precedent leading to a slippery slope.

    You don’t like pork and beef, don’t eat any. I don’t like pork and beef either, and that’s why I’m vegetarian.

  13. Bangladesh, Pakistan and India are not the same. They may all be flawed societies with inequalities, but to insinuate that Indian Muslims (or Christians, Sikhs and other minority religious groups) face the kind of institutionalised discrimination that can make their numbers drop from 14% to 2% in 60 years is a bit of a joke.

    This is true. Constitutionally Pakistan is an Islamic state and Bangladesh’s constitution says this http://www.pmo.gov.bd/constitution/index.htm

    2A. The state religion. The state religion of the Republic is Islam, but other religions may be practiced in peace and harmony in the Republic.]

    .

    I don’t think Indian constitution has anything similar that clearly says Hinduism is the state religion.

  14. A blanket, nationwide ban on anything that offends one religious group is going to lead to demands by every single religious group, and our government damn well give in to all if it gives in to one. Bad precedent leading to a slippery slope.

    Yeah and Jains do not eat anything that grows under the soil (I think). So next step for the government is to ban all those food products. Finally after allowing every religious story to dictate how OTHERS should live we would end up with banning every item as food and just left with air to breathe. Maybe that’s not a bad idea either. :-)

  15. Dr A #101: >>Hindu and Hindutva are not the same

    The way they respond to similiar external stimuli are not the same. For eg: Faced with an inappropriate comment like “Were you not hugged as a child?” (implying that one is a product of poor parenting skills) may make a Hindutvadi to retort “Did your father commit fellatio on you?”, but a hindu may respond in a more mellow manner.

    However, the issues and concerns they face are one and the same.

    M. Nam

  16. I mean look, leftists can believe what they believe, but what makes them dangerous is that a lot of them are at pretty influential positions at academic institutions in this country. They visit their similar minded friends at other schools giving guest lectures, all the time performing character assasinations of professors and groups who actually wonder about the plight of the Pandits in the same breath as Indian military excesses in Kashmir. To them, the only important aggressor in the subcontinent is India and its majority populatoin. Once they’re neutered, then perhaps Pakistani or Bangladeshi state atrocities will be looked at by them. But right now right here, there is one major aggressor and one major victim, any other variable in this equation will not be accepted. Anyone proposing another variable is labeled a single minded person with an obvious agenda.

    If its any consolation to anyone, most people see through this prejudice, but they dont understand it. In my intro class to south asia class my non indian friends thought the professor railed against India the way she did because she was of Pakistani descent when in fact she was a Bengali hindu, one whose family actually had been forced to move from bangladesh. I think the mentality is that India is like the older sibling of the neighborhood, so it has the responsibility to show the way. This would hold true, but India has remained a secular country that treats its minorities better through its history than Pakistan, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka. Does India treat its minorities with complete fairness? No and India has a lot to learn in this respect. What makes India different than its neighbors is that it could teach the world a thing or two as well about living in a diverse society.

  17. Btw, ‘Because’, thanks for the well written comment no 95, and for posting the link to Dr Benkin’s article.