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Bengal farmers vent anger at BSF

Police stepped in and brought the situation under control

By Alamgir Hossain in Behrampore(Murshidabad)

  • Published 21.10.18, 1:37 AM
  • Updated 21.10.18, 1:37 AM
A stretch of the fence in Murshidabad’s Raninagar where the stand-off occurred on Friday.
A stretch of the fence in Murshidabad’s Raninagar where the stand-off occurred on Friday. Chayan Majumdar

A BSF team at an outpost along the Bangladesh border in Murshidabad faced an “unprecedented” farmers’ uprising on Friday with stones thrown at the personnel, who allegedly retaliated with sticks and firing in the air.

Police stepped in and brought the situation under control but tension simmered as the standoff in Raninagar’s Kaharpara left 20 of the farmers hospitalised.

The BSF denied allegations of retaliation with one officer blaming the violence on the mob and claiming it “seemed orchestrated by cattle smugglers”. Both BSF and the villagers have lodged police complaints about “unprovoked attacks”.

“Trouble between the BSF and the villagers is not new. But this was an unprecedented situation as an organised mob of around 500 had attacked the contingent and 20-odd personnel of the force got involved in the stand-off,” said a police source.

Locals said the protest against the BSF was triggered by alleged “insensitivity” towards the farmers, many of whom have plots on a 4km of stretch beyond the barbed border fence.

The area between Kaharpara and Harudanga — around 20km from Behrampore — in Murshidabad was fenced five years ago, leaving 200-300 metres of Indian land on the other side of the barbed wires.

The land continues to be cultivated by hundreds of farmers between 6.30am and 4pm. The farmers submit their voter IDs or Aadhaar cards to BSF personnel before venturing out to their farms and take the papers back when they return.

“The BSF guards do not open the gates on time and create problems for us when we return,” said Shazmal Sheikh, a farmer.

On Friday morning, after the gates were not opened till 7am, the villagers went to the BSF outpost — assigned to the BSF’s 117th battalion — and staged a demonstration. Shortly after that, stones were hurled at the outpost.

“The villagers have complained that BSF personnel emerged from the outpost with sticks and firearms. In the melee, at least 20 villagers were injured,” said a police source. Block medical officer Kamal Bashar confirmed the number of those injured.

Allegations of highhandedness by BSF personnel are not uncommon on either side of the border. The personnel, most of whom do not know the local language, have often been accused of not trying to resolve disputes amicably.

Villagers in Kaharpara said Friday’s incident was an outpouring of pent-up anger against the paramilitary force.

Forty-year-old Alam Sheikh, one of the protesters who suffered a fractured arm and is being treated at the Murshidabad Medical College and Hospital, said the flare-up on Friday followed repeated instances of the BSF personnel delaying opening of the gates for farmers, besides other “excesses”.

“The BSF jawans treat us very badly. There is nobody we can approach for redress, especially about the delay in opening the gates. This has directly affected our livelihoods. When we tried to protest, this is what they did to us,” Sheikh alleged.

BSF deputy inspector-general (Behrampore range) U.C. Hazarika said he had asked three senior officers to visit the spot and conduct a “thorough” probe.

Hazarika said he would not be able to comment on the standoff before the probe report. “Some incident did take place at the Kaharpara outpost on Friday. Let me get the probe report.”

Hazarika alleged the violence was perpetrated by the mob. “Ever since the fence was put up, it has caused problems for cattle smugglers. That is why they keep attacking the BSF. This incident seemed orchestrated by the cattle smugglers.”