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Indian secretary's existential crisis

Publication Date : 26-10-2012


The Indian home secretary was in Bangladesh capital Dhaka lately, when he supposedly said more than he was willing to listen. He talked about terrorism, extradition treaty, border security and other issues of interest to two countries. But he left us in the no-man's land when the journalists asked him about killings on Indo-Bangla border. What the secretary said in response was obtuse jugglery of words. He said that when the Bangladeshis are gunned down by Indian Border Security Force (BSF), it should be called death instead of killing.

Who knows why on earth he came up with that distinction, but a matter of life and death for us was play of words for the Indian civil servant. It was as if death was lesser dying compared to killing. That reminds us of the moral of a fable written by Aesop 2,500 years ago. Some mischievous boys were playing on the edge of a pond, and they began to amuse themselves by pelting frogs with stones. After several of these creatures got killed, one of them pleaded that what was sport to the boys was death to them.

May be the Indian secretary slept better that night after his scurrilous comment. His superiors must have congratulated him on his presence of mind, on how quickly he mustered a ridiculous riposte without so much as a twitch in his face. It was also no less amazing how his Bangladesh counterpart swallowed that insult in an exalted state of intellectual equivocation. And our journalists, who had asked the question, readily froze. It was as if a strutting horse was abruptly numbed with tranquiliser shot.

Any Indian high official visiting Bangladesh should know that border killing would be the first thing on the minds of the journalists in a room with him. The fact is that the secretary didn't come prepared for that burning issue and it showed he didn't give much thought to it either. That explained why he tried to tackle it with a misplaced sense of humour. His absurd distinction between death and killing sounded like the punch line of a sick joke.

The size of a country is always inversely proportionate to its share in a bilateral crisis. The big country has the smaller percentage of the problem, while the smaller country has the bigger percentage of it. Border killing isn't a problem for India because all the killings are done by BSF. Our border force, Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB), have been goody two-shoes, who never had anything to shoot in their crosshairs.

How does it change BSF atrocities whether we call it death or killing? Perhaps the Indian secretary was hinting that BSF didn't take any life just because they were trigger happy. Okay, many of those who were killed were trespassers or smugglers. May be, at times some of these people get pesky or cheeky. May be, at times they get on the nerve of BSF men and ask for it. But they are not by any means subversive of Indian interests, surely not terrorists.

Then why should they get killed? They can be punished with fines or prison terms or even instant justice of a few slaps or beatings. But is it justifiable to shoot and kill them when they are mostly innocent farmers, cattle traders or often emotional folks who would like to frequently visit their relatives living on the Indian side of the border? Although one wonders why none of these ever happens between Indian citizens and BGB.

Death is a generic name for the cessation of life, whether it's due to natural causes or accidental killing or cold-blooded murder. Accidental killing resulting from lawful acts of violence is excusable as homicide. But accidental killing resulting from unlawful acts of violence not directed at the victim is punishable as manslaughter. Where the BSF killing comes in between these two extremes is for their conscience to tell.

Even if the Indians choose to call it death on their side of the border, it's still killing on our side because we carry the dead bodies on our shoulders. If that isn't enough to convince him, the Indian home secretary should ask families in his country, whose sons get killed in Siachen or Kargil. They will tell how the killer's cruelty hurts immensely more than the victim's fate. Death is end of journey, but killing is when that end comes at gunpoint.

It is common sense that watering a sapling is futile when chopped at the base. If India truly wants to secure its borders with Bangladesh and discourage terrorism, it shouldn't only deal with the downstream but also work on the upstream. It doesn't help to send negotiators suffering from existential crisis, because the same despondency also makes the terrorists.

The Indian secretary's poor sense of humour should get us worried. Anybody, who can diminish death, can diminish anything.

The writer is Editor, First News, and an opinion writer for The Daily Star.


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