Satgachhi/New Delhi, Feb. 3: The India-Bangladesh border standoff over a group of 213 people of disputed identity descended into a bloody civilian conflict this morning, raising the diplomatic temperature several notches.
Delhi describes the group as Bangladeshi nationals, a claim Dhaka has rejected, causing a stalemate on the Bengal border where these people have been stranded for four days in the no man’s land between the two countries.
Efforts by the Border Security Force (BSF) to push the group back into Bangladesh were resisted by its counterpart, Bangladesh Rifles (BDR). At a half-hour flag meeting this morning on the Satgachhi border, the BDR again made it clear that it would not allow the group — described as snake charmers — to enter Bangladesh.
The foreign ministry today summoned Bangladeshi high commissioner Tufail Karim Haidar to convey to Dhaka that the crisis would be resolved only if it took back its nationals. Delhi’s determination is shared by the Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee government in Bengal. The chief minister declared: “We want it (infiltration) stopped completely.”
Tension rippled on the border with Bangladeshis from the Nazir Gumani village on the other side attacking the stranded group this morning. Last night, there was allegedly an attempt to kidnap some of the women in the group.
According to the BSF, around 11 the group’s leader, Din Islam, was called by the BDR for talks. He was taken into a bamboo grove at Nazir Gumani where the villagers set upon him.
Displaying wounds in his forehead, chest, belly and leg, Islam said: “I was told some official from Dhaka has come to talk to one of us. I went over to Nazir Gumani. But before the BDR said anything, villagers pounced on me.”
Islam alleged that BDR soldiers stood by as he was being beaten. Islam ran back towards the no man’s land chased by Bangladeshi villagers, who then attacked the rest of the group. Many, including 67-year-old Bhanu Bibi, 50-year-old Nur Begum and one-and-a-half-year-old Mousumi Khatun, were injured in the attack which broke up after Indian villagers and the BSF approached from the other side.
Still badly hurting from the beating, Islam alleged that last night Bangladeshi villagers had tried to whisk away at least three women, Mamoni Khatun, Akhija Bibi and Bulbuli Khatun, but backed off after an alarm was raised bringing the BSF to the spot.
Jarip Mian, 50, said: “Villagers of Nazir Gumani are trying to kill us with BDR encouragement. They don’t want to take us back.”
BSF officials have been told to provide food and all humanitarian assistance to the stranded group. Indian officials alleged that though they had made arrangements for food and allowed Red Cross workers to examine the unclaimed people, no such offer was made by Bangladesh.
In Delhi, the additional secretary in the foreign ministry, Meera Shankar, told the Bangladeshi high commissioner that the nationality of the 213 people was well established as they were carrying proof of residence like electricity bills and there was no justification why Dhaka should refuse to take them back.
“The fact that they are not getting any humanitarian assistance from Bangladesh is causing them a lot of problems,” Shankar said.
Haidar admitted that he came to know about the crisis through media reports and promised to take up the matter urgently with his government.
The two countries have an agreed guideline on resolving such crises. Under this, people caught illegally crossing the border are immediately handed over to the side from which they came. If there are doubts over nationality, three days are given to determine which country they belong to.