Conflict Alerts

Conflict Alerts # 128, 22 July 2020

Suspected Bangladeshis lynched for cattle-smuggling at Assam border
Sampurna Bhaumik

In the news

On 18 July, three suspected Bangladeshi nationals were lynched in the southern district of Karimganj in Assam over an alleged cattle-theft attempt. This incident is second in a row after the first case of lynching was reported on 1 June for similar reasons. The latest incident took place in Bogrijan tea estate, located approximately 400kms from Guwahati under the jurisdiction of Patharkandi police station. According to local authorities, items recovered from the scene such as fence cutters and Bangladeshi food items point towards the Bangladeshi identity of victims and the BSF has been in touch with Border Guards Bangladesh over the concern of official identification. The perpetrators of the crime are however yet to be identified.

Issues at large
First, an unfenced porous border led to persistent security concerns. The border area in Karimganj where both incidents of lynching took place, is one particularly difficult corridor to bring under complete surveillance. The thick forest in the border, close to the Patharia reserve, serves as an elephant corridor that has led to the dilemma of preserving natural balance and maintaining strategic security. Thus, the border remains porous often leading to loopholes exploited by cattle smugglers irrespective of their national identities.

Second, unaddressed outrage from the locals over cattle theft has translated into resentment towards both criminals and the local authorities. The locals, particularly those living closer to borders have frequently complained of repeated attempts of cattle theft, but in vain when the perpetrators often prove to be Bangladeshi nationals, aided by Indians. In addition, the BSF sources have reported an unusual spike in the cattle smuggling from India into Bangladesh as the Islamic festival of Eid-ul-Adha approaches. The official data shows that it has been largely the Indian side dealing with the thefts. Hence after repeated instances of cattle smuggling (which mean loss of livelihood avenues), the locals seem to resort to a quicker form of justice that can bring them instant gratification as the local authorities fail to do little.

Third, a sharp rise in mob mentality and a tendency towards violent retaliation. There have been repeated cases of mob lynching not just in Assam but all over the country and this trend of violent intolerance is on the rise since 2015. As the region of Assam particularly struggles with the exercise of NRC and subsequently, CAA- the act of 'othering' has tended to result in violent courses of action guised as mob justice. In 2018, two Assamese youth from Guwahati lost their lives to mob mentality over a case of mistaken identity. Such recurring violence points to not only an environment of constant suspicion but also a loss of faith in law and order. The lynching has come at a time when the suspicion against others and the lack of trust in the justice mechanism are pronounced. 

In perspective
The partially unfenced status of the boundary between India and Bangladesh will continue to be a source of concern between the two countries. Not only the boundary that is irregularly geo-coded, to begin with, but it also runs along with riverine islands and other water bodies that cannot be effectively mapped, leading to frequent border skirmishes. However, while the States involved debate over strategic concerns, the locals experience the border through their everyday lives every differently and it is mostly a battle with its impacts on a real-time basis. The State only concerns itself to peripheral problems when its sovereign status or territorial integrity is in immediate danger. The repeated incidents of cattle theft, while a concern nonetheless, does not qualify as a formidable threat to India, thus allowing the loopholes to persist. This will keep contributing to the resentment at the very grass-root level with the smugglers symbolizing long term negligence on part of the authorities.

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