In mid-July, two BSF jawans allegedly gang-raped a Chakma tribal, allegedly rubbed her face with acid to ensure she lost her sight and couldn’t identify them. Her friend’s acid-scarred body came to light this weekend.
Human rights violations by the Border Security Force (BSF) personnel, who secure the border on the India-Bangladesh frontier, are said to have touched a new low in Mizoram earlier this month.
On July 16 this year, two BSF personnel posted at Silsury Border Outpost (BOP) under the Mami district of Mizoram allegedly gang-raped a Chakma tribal woman along the India-Bangladesh border in Mamit district. The rape survivor identified as Dangubi Milebo Chakma (name changed) said she was waylaid and gang-raped by two men, she alleged were BSF jawans from the Silsury BOP, when she along with another Chakma tribal woman, Rangabi Chakma, w/o Karna Chakma, went to the forests to collect bamboo shoots. The brutality did not stop at rape. She told police that when she resisted the rape attempt, the alleged BSF jawans rubbed a cloth soaked in acid on her face. She suffered serious injuries on her face including her eyes and has been undergoing treatment at Aizawl. In a video interview, the rape survivor confirmed that it was the BSF personnel who had committed the alleged crime.
On July 22, as the investigation into the alleged rape by the Mizoram Police was continuing, the decomposed dead body of Rangabi Chakma, the companion of the rape survivor, was found. It is not clear whether Rangabi Chakma had been sexually assaulted. With Rangabi Chakma’s killing, the accused have allegedly eradicated the lone witness in the alleged rape of her friend.
The acid-scarred remains of Rangabi Chakma.
The Mizoram Police are investigating both the cases and have registered a case of murder with respect to the death of Rangabi Chakma. The BSF personnel from the border posts have been called and their photographs were taken. The rape survivor has been asked by the Mizoram Police to record her statement before the Judicial Magistrate in Mamit district.
When contacted for the BSF’s reaction to the alleged rape, its PRO Shubhendu Bhardwaj said, “The matter is under investigation and we trust the process of law.”
As parts of Mizoram are beyond of the reach of communications, the incidents often go unreported unless it is a case of rape or death. For example, on November 12, 2009, the National Human Rights Commission in an order directed the Ministry of Home Affairs to pay compensation to the family of Gobalya Chakma who was killed and seven others were injured in BSF firing on April 15, 2006. On that day, BSF personnel opened indiscriminate firing on Chakma tribal villagers at Bulongsuri under Lunglei district when the villagers protested against the manhandling of a Buddhist monk by the BSF. In the firing, Gobalya Chakma was killed on the spot.
The question arises as to why the BSF resorts to such indiscriminate killing even in non-conflict situations, not that violation of human rights under any circumstances are justified. The answer can be found in the impunity provided by the Government of India.
The killing of Khoka Mia on November 30, 2010 while trying to save his daughter Tulu Aktar from being molested by BSF jawans at Amzadnagar, Belonia, Tripura is illustrative. As then Director of Asian Centre for Human Rights, I had filed a complaint with the NHRC, and the Tripura Police too registered FIR No. 282/10 against the BSF personnel for offences under Section 302/376/341/511/326 read with Section 34 IPC. However, Tripura Police could not arrest the accused as the BSF authorities refused to hand over the accused. The Tripura Police subsequently filed a charge-sheet for offences u/s 341/376/511/325/302/34 IPC against three BSF personnel in the Court of the Sub-Divisional Judicial Magistrate, Belonia on April 30, 2012.
On the BSF’s refusal to cooperate with the judicial magistrate, the NHRC in its proceedings stated, “It is a sorry state of affairs that where women’s rights are violated by Armed Forces, the senior officers of the Armed Forces are declining even to cooperate with the process issued by the Court.” Yadvendra Singh, then Deputy Inspector General (Operations) of the BSF, in his letter dated March 24, 2011, to the NHRC stated that the Staff Court of Inquiry conducted by the BSF had established that there was no substance in the allegation of attempt to commit rape of Tulu Akhtar and further that the BSF enjoyed immunity under the BSF Act of 1968 and Section 45 of the Criminal Procedure Code for discharging official duty.
The NHRC held that “molestation, attempt to rape etc are not the offences committed by the person in the discharge of his duties. Looking to the circumstances narrated by the investigating agency, it cannot be said that the constable while in discharge of his duty fired his weapon on the deceased.” The NHRC further held that, “The Commission notes that the Staff Court of Inquiry held by the BSF has already absolved them. It has found that this is almost invariably the case with BSF Courts of Inquiry, staffed by junior officers, whose primary concern seems to be to protect their colleagues rather than to uphold the law.”
The BSF’s conduct has come under review before. The image of the BSF’s brutality is the killing of 14-year-old Bangladeshi girl, Felani Khatun on January 7, 2011 while she was crossing the barbed-wire fence along the Anantapur border point of the international border. Felani’s death sparked international outcry as the photo of her dead body draped over the fence went viral. In August 2015, the Supreme Court had issued notice to the Centre in the case of Felani’s killing after a petition was filed seeking cancellation of 2013 and 2015 BSF court’s verdicts that acquitted the BSF personnel accused of killing the minor girl.
The Human Rights Watch in a 2010 report described the BSF as “Trigger Happy” after documenting the killing of about 1,000 people, both Indian and Bangladeshi nationals in excessive use of force by the BSF troops at West Bengal along the India-Bangladesh borders.
Just like in the case of attempted rape of Tulu Aktar, the BSF authorities will completely deny the alleged rape of Milebo Chakma and not cooperate with the Mizoram Police. If the rape survivor manages to identify the culprits, the BSF will still invoke its impunity. Considering that Silsury of Mizoram is in one of the remotest areas of the country or at the end of India with no access to proper roads and communications, the victims will not be able to pursue the case and will easily be intimidated.
As recent as on April 21, 2017, the Supreme Court had admitted a petition filed by Kolkata-based Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha seeking investigation into alleged torture, rape and killings by the BSF personnel and challenging the constitutional validity of Sections 46 and 47 of the BSF Act, 1968 that grants BSF personnel immunity from being tried in regular courts. The petition alleged that there were more than 200 cases of torture and killings by the BSF personnel between 2005 and 2011, but the cases which were never probed by the state police.