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 The historical references to partition, and footage of places where the border between India and Bangladesh is a mere alleyway, do not relate to the people being shot around the fence.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.