Anandabazar Patrika, Sunday 11 Nov 2001
Pijush Saha, Raiganj
A teenaged girl was killed in BSF firing as her family was crossing the border, fleeing the minority persecution in Bangladesh. Her 15 year-old brother was also critically wounded and is now the Raiganj Hospital where he is being treated for bullet wounds to the stomach. Police sources said that the girl was Dayarani Kshetri (12). Although the police recovered Dayarani's body they have not been able to trace the whereabouts of her father or her other brother. The incident occurred at 9.30 on Friday at the border town of Bahar which is about 30 km from Raiganj in the Bindol area.
The incident has created a stir in the locality.
Chief-minister Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharya told reporters at a conference, "We have heard of the incident and asked the district police to send us a detailed report". North Dinajpur authorities and police have started separate investigations on the matter. District Magistrate, Ariz Aftab has said "We are investigating the entire incident." At the same time superintendent Akhil Roy said "A Bangladeshi refugee died from a BSF bullet while trying to cross to this side of the border. The police has started investigations." In Calcutta, Trinamul Leader Mamata Banerjee has said that she will talk to Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani about the Raiganj incident. Central Information and Broadcasting Minister Sushma Swaraj has said "The central government will provide all assistance in the matter of refugees from Bangladesh including providing food and shelter if necessary. We will discuss this with the chief minister on an official level when he visits Delhi on November 15th."
Police and local sources informed us that Subhash Kshetri, an inhabitant of
Pirganj village in the Thakurganj district in Bangladesh was crossing the
Basalgaon border on Friday night with his two sons and daughter along with two
other families, when they were stopped by BSF jawans of battalion 17. Even
though Shubhash-babu stopped the jawans started firing randomly at them. Shanto
Kshetri, the eyewitness to the entire incident, recounted it with difficulty
from his bed at the Raiganj hospital. He also told of how they were being
tortured in Bangladesh. "The landlord told us, there is no food for you
here anymore. Go to the other side. So we were coming here." They had
crossed the border and were 200-300 metres across when some BSF jawans saw them
and shouted "Halt! Halt!" Shanto said "We stopped when we heard
the shouts. Then before we could say anything they started firing." By his
description, his father, brother and sister were immediately hit by bullets and
fell into the paddy fields and he was also hit on the back. He doesnt remember
anything after that. He only cries and says "I cant find any of them."
Shanto has not been told that his sister has died. No
one else knows anything about his father or brother. Many residents of Bahar suspect that Shubhash-babu and his son are critically wounded and have been removed from the area.
The village residents complained that when they came out of their houses on
hearing the firing the BSF asked them to go back in at gunpoint. On Saturday
afternoon the village was eerily quiet because of the BSF presence. On seeing
our car they went indoors and shut the doors thinking the car was of a BSF
official. When they realized we were from the press they came out slowly in
groups. Babul Barman, Dinesh Barman and Rajkumar Barman, who were visibly scared
told us, "We heard 9 gunshots at around 9.15. We came out and heard voices
saying "Help us! We have been wounded. Help!" By then BSF jawans were
coming towards us, guns raised.
They said "We'll shoot if anyone comes out of their houses. No one will come to save them. If you do you'll die like the Bangladeshis." Ujwal and Dhananjoy Barman said "They have scared us so much we haven't gone out of our houses all morning even to harvest our crops.
We're trapped indoors." They said that everyday 8-10 families had been crossing the Basalgaon border to this side and the BSF jawans were aware of that. Why did the jawans decide to start firing yesterday? We were stopped at the gate of the BSF camp near Bahar village but from there saw the battalion 17 camp commandant Raj Sinha scolding the jawans. He told us "The jawans fired in self-defence." He admitted that the people fired at were not smugglers. "None of them were criminals. Many Bangladeshis are coming here to save their lives and escape persecution." He explained that the jawans fired because the refugees started running when they were asked to halt. Since the Bahar border doesnot have a barbed wire fence, refugees are crossing over from there.
According to him "Anyone crossing the border from Bangladesh is an
infiltrator for us and we will stop them." He avoided the question of the
missing people and said that they had escaped after the firing.
Mamata Banerjee said "What the BSF has done is wrong. Our party has already lodged a complaint against this with the Home Minister. I will talk to Shri Lal Krishna Advani myself." But she accused the state government too, saying, "This has happened because of their indifference. They are unwilling to admit that the people coming from Bangladesh are not infiltrators but asylum-seekers. They should immediately discuss this with the central government and decide on a solution otherwise this could become catastrophic."
PCC chief Pronob Mukherjee said "Firing on people seeking a safe haven in India is absolutely wrong. The state and central government should have the matter investigated and take action." Like Mamata he also said "We have asked the state to give the center a detailed report on the refugee situation. Their not doing so is what is causing the present crisis."