The life of 32-year-old Nur Jalal has been devastated. He cannot see anymore. He lost his sight after the Indian Border Security Force (BSF) opened fire at him while he was trying to smuggle cows through the barbed wire fence in 2018. The bullets also tore apart his tongue. As a result, he cannot even speak anymore.
He needs assistance from others to move around. His wife Shikha Akhter has returned to her father’s house with their baby.
Jalal is from the Chhant Karaibari village along the Dantvanga border in Rowmari upazila of Kurigram. The zero line of the border is some 300 yards away from his house. The village on the other side of the fence also has the same name - ‘Chhant Karaibari’. That area has fallen under the Hatsingimari police station in the Indian state of Assam. Jalal was shot near the border pillar no. 1056, near his house.
Jalal's father Abdul Malek now runs the family. He works as a daily labourer. Speaking to Prothom Alo, Jalal’s mother Nurima Begum said, “Jalal used to work in a factory in Dhaka. He fell into the trap of the smugglers as soon as he came back home and went to smuggle cattle.
Through an investigation following the lead from the incidents described by Jalal, it has been learned that some 19 people were killed in the Rowmari border area while trying to smuggle cattle from India in the last five years from 2016 to 2022. Many have been injured while many had become disabled in these encounters on the border.
This information has been retrieved from the locals and the families of the victims. However, according to the figures of the Rowmari police station, the number of casualties is 10.
However, the people concerned said that if a family files a case or if the police gets information about any casualty, only then it will be counted officially. However, many families of the smugglers try to hide the information to avoid legal trouble. If someone is killed, he is buried secretly and if he is injured, he is treated secretly.
In this time, some 41 were injured. Of them, some eight have lost their sight and five became crippled. Besides, at least 28 are suffering from bullet-wounds.
All the victims are from poor families. Most are between the ages of 16 and 40. The correspondent spoke with seven of the injured. They say they do not have any job in their area except for three months of the year. At this time, the smugglers use them as labourers for cattle smuggling. Some are involved in this work in pursuit of livelihood while some in the greed of earning more money.
According to the victims and their families, all these people were killed by the BSF.
Mohammad Shamsul Haque, assistant director of the 35th Battalion of the BGB on duty at the Rowmari border, claimed to Prothom Alo that all these were previous incidents and now there is no opportunity for smuggling in the area. Three times more BGB members have deployed in the Rowmari border area as compared to the past.
However, there were reports even some three months ago that a man from Khetar Char was shot by the BSF while trying to smuggle cattle.
They are blind now
On 29 June, 2020, Rezaul Islam, 35, of the village lost his eyesight when he was hit by a splinter of a grenade thrown by BSF (cocktail in the words of the locals) while smuggling a cow through Dharmapur border of Dantbhanga Union. He now runs a small grocery store on one side of his house. However, he did not agree to talk about it when this correspondent went to his shop on 29 June and asked him about it.
On the same day, college student Hasan Ali and agricultural labourer Mozahar lost their eyes while smuggling cows with Rezaul. Hasan had just passed SSC and was admitted to a college.
Speaking to Prothom Alo, Hasan Ali said he went for cattle smuggling seeing some of his friends.
He was shot in the left eye. He was later treated at a private hospital in Rangpur and the Ispahani Eye Hospital in Dhaka, but never regained his sight. His family is passing days in utter destitution being forced to sell their cattle and to borrow money from others for his treatment.
Hasan, now, is remorseful. He runs a small grocery store in his house.
Similarly, Ahidur Rahman, 40, Manju Mia, 40, Mozahar Ali, 40, Abdul Karim, 50, of Gachbari village and Aziar Rahman, 40, of Parer Char village also lost their sight.
Manju Mia claims he gave up smuggling after losing one of his eyes.
Families suffering the most
Faridul Islam, 20, of Harindhara village in Dantbhanga union was shot dead by BSF near the East Kawar Char border pillar in the early hours of 13 February. According to locals, BSF members took his body to India. A week later, the body was buried at Dafadar Para cemetery under Hatsingimari police station in Assam.
No one was found at Faridul’s house on 28 June. His uncle told Prothom Alo that his mother lost her mental balance, losing her only earning son.
Ahila Begum, 70, of East Ijlamari village of Roumari Sadar union, is still mourning the loss of her two sons in the same way.
Her relatives say Akidul Islam, 23, the youngest son of Ahila Begum, died on the morning of 13 July 2016 at the Bhandurchar border in Roumari after being hit by a stone thrown by the BSF. Earlier in 2001, his eldest son Enamul Haque was shot dead by BSF at the same border.
Raihan Mia, a teenager, died on September 7, 2019 at the Dharmapur border while smuggling cattle illegally. Raihan was a seventh grader. Neighbours said Raihan's parents secretly joined the cattle smugglers after they failed to pay for a mobile phone.
SM Rezaul Karim, chairman of Dantbhanga union parishad (UP), claimed that they often hold meetings and seminars to prevent smuggling. However, no one listens to them. Habibur Rahman, a member of the same union parishad, told Prothom Alo that people across the border live in extreme poverty. If they could be given employment, it would be possible to reduce smuggling to a great extent.