Media reports show that India’s Border Security Force killed at least 15 Bangladeshis along the border in January this year. In this situation Nasir Abdullah, a student of University of Dhaka, began a sit-in protest demanding an immediate implementation of zero-border-killing policy and investigations of all previous cases of death. On February 11, during an interview with Nasir Uz Zaman for New Age Youth, he talked about his grievances and demands
New Age Youth: From January 25, you are continuing a sit-in protest against border killings. What prompted you to begin this programme?
Nasir Abdullah: To be honest, it is the situation in the border area, the continued border killing of Bangladeshi citizens by India’s Border Security Force left me no choice but to protest. The empirical data of such brutality is unsettling.
Ain o Salish Kendra’s reports show that at least 43 Bangladeshis were killed by BSF in 2019 where the number was 14 in 2018. Indiscriminate border violence including abduction and torture is also alarming. From media reports, BSF killed at least 15 Bangladeshis along the border in January this year. In this situation I could not remain silent.
Two things have led me to protest. Firstly, the rise in border violence including killing, abduction and torture; secondly, the prevailing silence among Bangladeshi citizens on the issue. Someone has to take the responsibility, take the risk to break the silence. And I am trying to do it with the best of my ability, I am trying to raise the issue among the students and general public so they could realise that it is time for us to raise our voice against border killing.
New Age Youth: Do you think that there is lack in government’s effort to prevent border violence?
Nasir Abdullah: The government effort is definitely inadequate and insincere. In my view, Bangladesh has not created a space to protect the national interest. Since independence, successive government are maintaining diplomatic relationship neighbouring, as well as other countries to maintain their position in power. In the process, national interest is compromised and border killings continued. I am not asking any particular government but the state to take responsibility of this failure. All the organs of the state have to function to resolve this issue.
On February 2, the foreign minister AK Abdul Momen expressed his concern over the recent border killings, but we do not see any steps from the concerned authorities to take up the issue to international forums as it is also a violation of international law.
Instead, it has been repeatedly said that a bilateral, cordial relationship exists between Bangladesh and India. The reality shows otherwise. Nothing but empty promises is what we got from Indian government. When Bangladesh was expected to take a strong position and demand immediate implementation of the ‘zero border killing policy’, we see a minister telling the media that it would not take any responsibility of the deaths taking place during illegal cattle trading. What the minister is forgetting is that there are internationally accepted border control protocols and none of which approves a shoot-to-kill policy that the India has adopted for Bangladesh. According to the Memorandum of Understanding and related treaties signed between the two countries, if citizens of the two countries illegally cross the border, it would be considered trespass and as per law those persons should be handed over to the civilian authority. Over the years, at many directorate general level meetings, India has agreed to use the non-lethal weapons to pacify the violators. However, India continues to use lethal forces, it is also expressively violent in its treatment of unarmed citizens. The government’s lack of political will is clearly evident.
New Age Youth: Border killing is a national issue. As a student, why do you think it is important to raise voice against the issue?
Nasir Abdullah: It is nearly three weeks since I have started the sit-in programme against border violence. During this period, this is the question that I have been asked the most. And the answer is simple — I am not only a student but also a citizen of this country. So, I have the right to raise my voice whether it is categorised as student issue or national issue. The people who are killed along the border are my fellow citizen.
I have spent about four and a half year in University of Dhaka — a public university funded by public money. It would not have been possible for me to continue my study without the contribution of public. Now, I cannot deny my responsibility for the common people. If I don’t stand for them and don’t raise my voice, it would be nothing but betrayal.
The culture of fear is swallowing us. Someone has to come forward and fight the situation. Students or the youths are the symbol of hope for future, it is considered symbol for a reason. We could not claim to be the symbol without performing the role expected of us. The symbol must be turned into reality.
The history of Bangladesh shows the important roles students have played to bring changes. And I believe, if students and people collectively protest against any issue including border killings, the situation will change. To make that happen, students have to take the responsibility to make people aware and facilitate greater unity.
New Age Youth: What is your experience while continuing your protest?
Nasir Abdullah: I have come to realise that people as well as the students are far from recognising their collective strength. Individual interest has become their priority.
On January 29, young job seekers demonstrated here, just in front of me at Raju sculpture, demanding reduction in job application fees. Their demand was undoubtedly logical and a large number of students, job seekers and familiar faces attended the protest. Sadly, no one from that protest had attended border killing protest. They might think that border killing is not an issue for them as they are not the direct victim. In reality, they don’t see anything beyond the scope of their individual interest.
Some of the progressive students’ organisations that strongly believe that larger change is needed are also in a dilemma about participating in this border killing protest. Many of the members from these organisations personally expressed solidarity, but yet to attend or support the protest collectively and take the movement forward.
I must add one more experience here. From past experiences, I was mentally prepared to face direct pressure from the university authority, student wing of the ruling party or the law enforcement agencies but, so far, they are ignoring the protest.
New Age Youth: Has your family been supportive? There have been reports that members of the police have visited your family since you started your sit-in protest?
Nasir Abdullah: My father is a small businessman. Like any other middle class family, they expect their eldest son to get a good job after graduation. And, my family is no exception in this regard. They are always concerned about my safety as I am involved in student politics. In the context of my sit-in protest, police have not approached my family, but they have enquired about me from local influential people. Clearly, it made them even more anxious to the extent that my parents have fallen ill. But, I have always tried to make them understand my point of view.
New Age Youth: What was your past involvement in student politics?
Nasir Abdullah: In my first and second year, I went through the harassment of the ruling party’s student wing, widely known as ‘ganaroom kora’ or ragging. At the time, we protested against the harassment.
Since then, I got involved in many student, as well as national movements. To name a few, Dhaka University Central Students’ Union movement, seven DU affiliated college movement, quota reform movement, protest against ‘ganaroom’ or ragging, save the Sunderbans movement and many more. I was also a candidate of the last Dhaka University Central Students’ Union elections.
New Age Youth: What do you hope from your protest?
Nasir Abdullah: I hope students and mass people will get the message from this protest that there is nothing to be afraid of. If we collectively protest against border killing, we could stop it. Border killing must be stopped and it cannot be tolerated any more. I will try my best to carry this message among the youths and the mass people.
If we face any trouble, we will collectively overcome it. But for that to happen, we need to be united against border violence.
Nasir Uz Zaman is a member of the New Age Youth team.
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