The dead weight of shame long forgotten

India forgot its lessons on treating the dead with dignity, even when it had once tried to teach Bangladesh the same


Ajay Singh | June 21, 2010

One memory that the border security force (BSF) has completely deleted from its records pertains to the killing of nearly a dozen soldiers by the Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) along with some villagers. A patrol party of the BSF had inadvertently strayed into an area which fell under the territory of Bangladesh. Much before the party members could realise their mistake, a posse of BDR jawans along with a hostile group of villagers surrounded and killed them. This happened during the National Democratic Alliance regime.

After the ambush, the slain BSF jawans were carried like animal carcasses with their hands and legs tied to poles. Pictures flashed across the country in newspapers provoked serious outrage among people and prompted the government to take it up with the Bangladesh government at the highest level. The pictures were so disturbing that the BSF leadership chose to delete any reference of the encounter from its institutional memory.

A former director general of force told me that he had tried to find the files relating to the incident in order to assess the reasons for the operational shortcomings. But he could not get even a shred of record on the issue. “All records have been so meticulously deleted that there is nothing in the BSF records which can throw light on one of the biggest failures of this paramilitary force,” he said.

The reason for pressing the delete button from the BSF's institutional memory is obvious. Why should a fighting force assigned the task of defending the borders be reminded of a humiliation! This memory is so demoralising for the force that it deserved complete deletion from the records, aver some security experts.

But how can such logic apply to the entire nation? The picture of a woman Naxalite with her hands and legs tied on a rope being carried away by the jawans can only portray the insensitivity and callousness of the state in dealing with the marginalised people. That the ongoing battle against Maoists is being described as a “war” is only a pointer to the government's conduct. If rhetoric is to be believed, security forces are fighting with “enemies” who need to be crushed by force. Though the home ministry conveyed its displeasure over the picture, its disapproval appeared to be tactical rather than genuine. The home ministry appeared more concerned over the stupidity of the forces in allowing the camera to catch their indiscretion.

However, the picture is going to be so firmly etched in people's minds that it would be difficult to erase it by resorting to rhetoric alone. Maoists would continue to perpetuate its memory to advance their pernicious ideology of using violence to overthrow a “corrupt, criminal and bourgeoisie state”. And unlike the BSF, where memory of humiliation was deleted quite effectively, the picture of the body of a frail-looking “Maoist” girl tied to a bamboo and carried like an animal carcass will continue to haunt the government as the “war” against Maoists takes to a new turn.



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