I am grateful to JYOTI RAHMAN, a Bangladesh-focused blogger, for contributing this guest post
Once upon a time, slaughter of cow was a major political issue in Bengal. There was a clause about it in the Bengal Pact — an agreement which, if implemented, could have avoided partition. And now, six decades after partition, there is a thriving trade in cows from India to Bangladesh. A recent LA Times article reports:
A dirty little secret that most Indian politicians don’t discuss is the thriving cow smuggling trade from their Hindu-majority nation, home of the sacred cow, to Muslim-majority Bangladesh, where many people enjoy a good steak. The trade is particularly robust around the Muslim festival of Eid.
Estimates suggest 1.5 million cows, valued at up to $500 million, are smuggled annually, providing more than half the beef consumed in Bangladesh.
The profits can be significant. A $100 medium-size cow in Jharkhand is worth nearly double that in West Bengal and about $350 in Bangladesh.
Gordon Gekko’s greed-is-good philosophy, Adam Smith’s invisible, what economists call arbitrage — call it what you will, but you would be somewhat right for thinking that the profit motive is triumphing over politics, market forces are breaking down thousands of years old taboo.
Somewhat right, but not wholly. There is more to the tale.
Once upon a time, it was Bangladesh that wanted to erect restrictions on travel to and from India. In 1972, Bangladesh was adamant that the two countries should have a visa system between them. Back then, Bengali Muslim majority of the country feared that Hindus who migrated around partition would return en masse.
Things are different these days. It is now India that is erecting a fence around Bangladesh. And to guard that fence, the Indian Republic is effectively giving its Border Security Force a licence to kill. And the cattle drivers across the border operate under a place that is more dangerous than the Wild West.
In 2009, 96 Bangladeshis were killed by BSF shooting in the border, another 79 had been injured, and another 92 became ‘missing’. This follows 62 deaths in 2008, and 120 in 2007. And according to media reports, the BSF kills a larger number of Indian nationals every month as well.
Truth be told, I wouldn’t particularly expect something better from state machineries such as ours. And I am not particularly surprised by the stock-standard line in India is that a fence is necessary to keep illegal immigrants and terrorists out.
Are there Bangladeshis residing in India illegally? Sure. But let’s not forget, whether as a rickshawallah in Delhi, house made in Mumbai, or a road construction worker in Hyderabad, these people are contributing to the Indian economy. They make it possible for the Indian middle class to enjoy its new found prosperity.
As for the terrorist connection: when was the last time a Bangladesh-based jihadi outfit has been proved to have a connection with some attack in India? This is not a rhetorical question. I would like to know.
Meanwhile, Indian Muslim extremists have crossed the border to Bangladesh. This is a threat as much to Bangladesh as it is to India. It is difficult to explore why, after 62 years of secular democracy, some Indian Muslims may find jihad attractive. It is far easier to erect a barbed wire fence along the border, and give the border guards a licence to kill.
Needless to say, every time the BSF kills a cow-herd or a farmer or a village girl at the border, the fear of Indian hegemony is further entrenched in the Bangladeshi psyche. It is ironic that the BSF, with its history of training Mukti Bahini guerrillas in 1971, has become the single most important cause of Indophobia in Bangladesh. And the progressive politics in both side of the border loses when Indophobia gains in Bangladesh.
And yet, it seems to me that progressive activists in India are mostly oblivious to this. I am reminded of this Rage Against the Machine song about similar abuses along the US-Mexico border.
When will an Indian Tom Morello sing about India’s wall of death?