The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Unfed Shah Rukh in deathly silence
- BSF considers forcible pushback if another round of meeting fails

Satgachhi/New Delhi, Feb. 4: Delhi and Dhaka are in a deadlock over her identity, but Shah Rukh Khan’s mother Namuna Bibi tries to make no secret of where her home is.

The 213-strong group — snake-charmer families — stranded in the no man’s land here in north Bengal’s Cooch Behar district since Friday could be on its way home if the Border Security Force (BSF) makes good its threat.

After a meeting with senior officers, Ajai Raj Sharma, DG, BSF, said from Delhi that if the dispute over the group’s identity was not resolved at a meeting with the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR), possibly on Thursday, India would opt for forcible pushback.

“If there is resistance from the BDR during the operation, we will reply in kind,” he said.

However that strategy might pan out, for now, grasping a month-old Shah Rukh close to her, Namuna is clutching at straws. She tells the BSF jawan, the journalist, whoever is prepared to listen: “Babu, my husband (she won’t name him) — Shah Rukh’s father — lives in Porabari village under Savab police station of Dhaka. Please tell him his son is dying because I have nothing to feed him. He will certainly do something.”

Stuck in this sliver of land, hemmed in by the BSF on one side and the BDR on the other — with neither country ready to accept her or her compatriots — the tension, the anxiety and the state of near-starvation have sucked her breast dry.

Shah Rukh has nothing to drink. He is not even making any sound today.

Even the border has fallen silent with not even the customary exchange of words — flag meetings — between the BSF and the BDR taking place since yesterday.

“I have directed my officers to strengthen vigil. They will move more men and equipment to forward areas if necessary,” Sharma said.

BSF sources said there was information of the BDR organising a human shield on their side to stonewall pushback attempts.

The stand-off could quickly lead to a humanitarian disaster. The injuries of those who were attacked yesterday by a group of Bangladeshi villagers from Nazir Gumani on the other side of the border have not healed much. Din Islam, the group’s leader, with his head still bandaged, said: “BSF doctors have given us first aid.”

Regina Bibi’s two-month-old child is feared to be afflicted with pneumonia. As one approaches her — holding her son close to keep him warm as he lies on a six-foot piece of plastic sheet given by the Red Cross — Regina, past 40 years of age, breaks down: “Baba, do something to send us home.”

For Kalani Bibi, nine months pregnant with the child of snake charmer Asikul Mian, home is where her father is. “Please tell my father Ajan Mian at Dhaka’s Savab. He will do something.”

Desperate cries for help have touched the people of Satgachhi on the Indian side. Today, Bairagir Haat panchayat sent rice, dal and wood for cooking.

Eating that rice and dal, which had only been boiled, Jarip Mian said: “Where will we go' Bangladesh is not taking us. Better shoot us all.”

Noor Begum, around 40, acknowledged the help they had received from Indian villagers. “Thanks to them, we’ve got something to eat.”

But the snakes, she said, had died of starvation.

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