Fortnight ago I got an opportunity to visit the Indo-Bangladesh border to speak to women subordinate officers in Border Security Force (BSF), a central paramilitary force under the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. Accompanied with a head constable Mr. D.K. Mondol, I left for the Indo-Bangladesh border from the office of the Additional Director General, Eastern Command, Kolkata at quarter to nine.
Around 12 p.m. after three hours of journey by road I reached the Border Out Post (henceforth BOP) at Haridaspur. But the journey was neither tiring nor boring as Mr. Mondol told me 'true' but 'hard' stories of the Indo-Pakistan Border in the states of Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat. He told me how gruesome it is to guard the borders along the mountaneous terrain when the temperature 'dips' down to minus fifteen degree centigrade.
How mother nature gets wrapped in white snow... but as a BSF jawan their eyes are not to view the 'beauty' of nature but to guard the mother nature- the motherland. How late at night they would hear sound of gunshots and take their proper position 'to fire'. They take shelters in bunkers when grenades are thrown at the Indian side by our hostile neighbour.
Their life can end at any moment- each and every second of their life they 'confront' death...but they remain firm in their motto to guard and defend India- our motherland. He spoke of his experiences in Special Protection Group, when he was deployed to protect Prime Minister's residence. He and others who were part of Special Protection Group would play badminton with Rahul Gandhi. He had full sympathy for Rahul and Priyanka Gandhi, who because of security concern had a caged childhood even though the cage was made of gold.
After reaching BOP Haridaspur , a senior officer welcomed me. As I entered the camp I saw the main building. In between the main building and the male jawan's barracks there is a huge playground where jawans play football and volleyball. My accommodation was made at the A.C. Conference hall building.
While having lunch with the Commandant and other senior officers I learnt that BSF officers in this region wear a batch of tigers (symbolizing the royal Bengal tiger of this region), whereas in Rajasthan the symbol is that of camel. It varies from state to state. After having a quick lunch with the senior officers, I started interviewing women personnel in BSF at the conference room.
These women personnel were freshly recruited. They were young and energetic. In the name tag their blood group has been mentioned, in case of emergency. Few of them received training at Kharkhan camp of BSF in Punjab and others received training in Siliguri. Initially, coming from a civilian background they found it difficult to adjust but with the passage of time they adapted themselves in the training camp.
Apart from indoor training where they learn laws, the outdoor training is challenging since they have to do drill, P.T., rope climbing etc. They learn to use pistols, sniper rifles, machine guns, handguns. Even though the training was 'hard', physically strenuous, but at the end of the day such training has made them firm, confident and fearless.
Some of them came from remote, conservative areas of Madhya Pradesh, Orissa, West Bengal. Their parents have been supportive and have encouraged them to join this male bastion. These women were proud of their uniform which gave them 'power', 'authority' and made them 'different' from any other civilian. They are being used for non-combat role. One of them spoke of her experience of frisking woman and recovering gold biscuits from a woman's knee-cap.
They have been involved in recovery of fake currency, narcotics, smuggled goods and have halted illegal immigrants to enter India. In this region smuggling of goods, cows, narcotics and trafficking of women is rampant. Terrorists use this as transit route to enter neighbouring countries or flee away from India.
A few of these women personnel are married with kids. A few of them have left their kids with parents and in-laws in towns, villages and stay at barracks where they share rooms with other women. Some of them live in family quarters. In the evening around 4.45 p.m. I left with a senior officer to visit the Petrapole - Benapole Indo - Bangladesh border. A group of jawans were getting ready for the ceremonial occasion. Sonu Nigam's song 'sandeshe aate hain' from the film 'Border' mesmerized the environment and helped to evoke a nationalist spirit.
On the right hand side, at a distance two hoardings Union Republic of India and People's Republic of Bangladesh were separated from each other by a railway line. I saw a Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) manning the Bangladesh side of the border.
Exactly at 5 p.m. the Joint Retreat Ceremony started. The Joint Retreat Ceremony was inaugurated on 6th November, 2013 by Dr. Muhiuddin Khan Alamgir, Home Minister, Govt. of People's Republic of Bangladesh and Shri Sushilkumar Shinde, then Home Minister, Government of India in presence of senior bureaucrats from both the countries.
The parade here is not as 'aggressive' as compared to the Indo-Pakistan border at Wagah. On both sides of the border, people watched the parade. After the parade, the gates of both sides are closed till early morning next day. During this time no human beings or goods can legally enter both countries. On the other side, the frontier wall has pictures of Bangabondhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. After the ceremonial parade was over I saw the white line that demarcates the border in no man's land.
I stood at the no man's land viewing the land where my ancestors belonged. For few seconds a strange emotional bond tied me with the land from where I trace my biological roots. I felt like capturing the time and land in my hands forever, knowing fairly well I have to leave this place within few minutes. For the first time I realized what my grandparents meant and felt when they would speak of 'partition'.
I realized what emotional traumas my grandparent's generation suffered when they were compelled to 'leave their land' forever and reside in the then 'alien land' where they were referred as 'refugee'. To leave home, friends, job, the 'land' and 'identity' and to re-establish their identity and niche in a new land requires a lot of patience, mental strength and hard work. How 'dirty' politics of colonial era fragmented such a beautiful evergreen landmass.
The Bangladeshis standing on the other side appeared so familiar to us- yet we are different countries with a different identity. It has been really wonderful to reconnect with my past for few minutes and then to move forward towards my next destination BOP Jayantipur under 40 BN (Battalion).
As I travelled the Assistant Commandant briefed me with the rank structure of BSF. The place is so beautiful. At the right side, the fencing has been completed in a zig zag border. However in certain areas fencing has not been completed due to disputes in the acquisition of land. Leaving 150 metres from the fencing the Bangladeshi border starts. In this BOP a separate barrack for women exists. At dusk I returned to the Haridaspur camp.
Next day after having breakfast, accompanied with an armed jawan I left for 152BN in a BSF gypsy. As I travelled I saw the posts made of bamboo where an armed BSF jawan stands alone confronts natural calamities, enemies, terrorists, venomous snakes and at times other wild creatures. Women are never posted alone, there are always in a group of two.
I passed through BOP Gunarmath, Angrail, Bornberia, Jhowdanga, and saw the concrete posts where the jawans stand at night with Hand Held Thermal Imager. I have been told with this instrument clear night vigilance for around 1 to 1.5 kilometre can be maintained. The jawan pointed out the numbers such as 17/ 167 R inscribed in small walls. It seems the jora sankha (even numbers) post belongs to Bangladesh, whereas the odd numbers belong to India (facts unverified).
we were travelling the jawans narrated their 'hard' life when
they were posted in Kashmir and Manipur. At times the platoon has to
remain in field at Jammu
and Kashmir border at a stretch for 72 hours with very limited
food and water. I just felt that we, the city dwellers enjoy all the
comforts of the city yet we yearn for more and more. But these jawans
have left their homes, families far behind, bravely confronting harsh
natural conditions, at times bullets for 'us'.
I asked one of the jawans after such hard duty do you get time to sleep? He replied, "Madam ji , ham nehi sote isiliye to aap log so sakte hain" ( madam, as we don't sleep, you implying civilians can sleep). As we celebrate 67th Independence Day let us not forget the paramilitary and military forces of our country who put their life in danger to protect our motherland from external enemies.
Finally I reached BOP Kalanchi where I met and interacted with twenty-one women constables who shared their thrilling professional experiences with me. The officer posted here showed me river Ichamati and the riverine border along the land. Inside the BOP Kalanchi the jawans have made a kitchen garden, poultry farm and a small pond exists where I saw different types of fish. My eyes tried to capture all the greenery all round. I had lunch with freshly caught 'hilsa' from the Ichamati river inside the tent.
The visit to the Indo-Bangladesh border has been a wonderful learning experience for a civilian like me. I met new people and made new friends. I enjoyed each and every moment in the lap of nature with a canopy of blue sky above. For a city dweller like me it has been a welcome retreat from the usual hustle bustle of the city. With lots of memories and beautiful scenic landscapes captured forever in my eyes I returned from the Indo-Bangladesh border to Kolkata by train.