There is a small village along the Indo-Bangladesh border with 1,500 residents called Milik Sultanpur, located 300 kms from Kolkata, with a cent percent Muslim population located about a kilo meter from the border. The BSF guards the entrance to this village and everything is accounted for. The villagers activities are closely scrutinized and the entry/exit point has a lot of security measures
The Telegraph sent two of its correspondents to this village. They had a hard time securing entry into the village until a higher official intervened.
The checkpost seems like a benign little shade where BSF jawans are stationed and is the lone entry and exit point from a road that runs parallel to the international border. The people entering and exiting the village are frisked and one of the villagers told the correspondents, “If we want to buy anything, we have to tell them before leaving the village and they note down the items in the notebook. On our return, they allow us to carry only those items that had been listed in the notebook.”
There are other restrictions too which are essentially security measures to keep infiltrations and intrusions in check. “We can’t leave our village before 6am and have to return by 6pm. We have to register at the check post each time we go out or come in. Depositing the notebook while going out for shopping is mandatory. Our relatives can visit us only if the BSF gives permission. We cannot even take our bicycles or motorbikes inside the village,” said the villager. Even school students have to input their name in the register while going to school. The villagers have to even tell the BSF jawans how much money they are carrying.
Movement inside the village is restricted too, as the journey had to end 200 metres short of the gate along a barbed fence, 150 yards inside the international border, also referred to as the zero point.
The village that comes under Akandaberiya gram panchayat and Kaliachak police station, responded well to the correspondents’ visit and came out of their homes to tell them how they felt that their freedom has been curbed. One of the villagers said, “It’s as if we have been put in detention centres even before the NRC is carried out.”
It has however, not always been this strict, it has only gotten more stifling and their freedom suffers. A village that lies one-and-a-half kilometres from the border, the villagers feel there is way too much restriction. The BSF jawans blamed the villagers for the increasing security concerns and hence tough measures that they have to execute.
Smuggling and other illegal cross-border movement is alleged to be the root cause of this curb on the villagers’ freedom. Fencing has not yet been done beyond the village and this seems to be the reason why the village has to suffer due to the shortcomings of the administration. The construction of the fence has reached the court as there is a dispute about where the fence should be laid out. The proposed area would lead to the villagers losing out on fertile land and hence their livelihood.
The BSF is bestowed with the responsibility to protect and ensure that illegal activities do not occur and the villagers’ daily life suffers because of it, making them feel like they are already living in a detention camp, with their entry/exit times being monitored and curbed and even small chores like buying groceries are monitored. Improving security along the border, using new technology to prevent crossing of border is what the government needs to look rather than going for the simple way out always, curbing people’s freedom citing security risks.
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