OPED | Monday, October 5, 2009 | Email | Print |
Smuggling of cattle must stop
Richard L Benkin
have shown that cattle-smugglers are facilitating anti-India
activities. Sadly, security forces turn a blind eye to crimes committed
along the border with Bangladesh
The Pioneer recently
ran a piece by Anuradha Dutt (“Criminal Slaughter,” September 23) about
smuggling of cows from India into Bangladesh. Anuradha Dutt has
questioned how it could be done so easily, since “these bulky animals
are difficult to overlook in the course of their journey.” One answer:
“The laissez faire attitude of the Congress, socialist and
Communist parties to the vital issue of protecting these gentle
creatures.” Her argument is compelling, and having just completed an
investigation into this criminal enterprise, I would add two more:
Corruption and jihad, South Asia’s two great scourges.
this year, two men contacted Bikash Halder, my Indian representative
who works with me to stop Bangladesh’s ethnic cleansing of Hindus. They
said they had important information, so we arranged a late-night
clandestine meeting in Kolkata with the two, ‘Rahul’ and ‘Samir’. Rahul
began by saying how he previously did unspecified work for intelligence
agencies that involved frequent trips between India and Bangladesh.
Whatever it was, however, it did not bear fruit, and the agencies
dispensed with his services; but he stayed in the area and like Samir
bought a house near the Bangladesh border. “After 10 pm you can see
everything,” they said; specifically, cattle going out of India in
exchange for arms and Islamists coming in, and members of the West
Bengal Police involved in the transactions.
In fact, Rahul said that the smugglers were jihadis
(something he claimed to know from his earlier forays) whose success
depended on corrupt Indian officials. Both men were so insistent that
they invited us to spend the night with them and see for ourselves.
While I had commitments outside West Bengal and eventually had to
return to the United States, Halder took them up on their offer this
He travelled to the Bongaon and Basirhat sub-divisions
of North 24 Parganas where he met our informants. Since Samir told us
in Kolkata that he could see the illicit activity from the back of his
house, Halder went to their homes and waited with them for nightfall.
Shortly after 10 pm, he confirmed what they reported in Kolkata: Cattle
being taken brazenly from India to Bangladesh. It was not Halder’s
first encounter with cattle-smuggling.
“It is a usual matter
in the India-Bangladesh border area,” he said, adding that the proceeds
from “cattle-smuggling are the main support for jihadi
activities.” He also uncovered evidence of what he termed “an industry”
that floods India with Islamists, arms, and other contraband.
“Smugglers are linked to militias on both sides of the border,” Halder
said. These arrangements make the police, who are supposed to enforce
the law, nothing more than paid armed escorts for those who are
He already knew that the West Bengal Police were
involved in cattle-smuggling, but his observations from the back of
Samir’s house and subsequent investigations showed more extensive
complicity. “I have seen the following scenario. Top to bottom,
security personnel take bribes. Some agents of both Indian and
Bangladeshi agencies are involved with smuggling, and both of them
shelter jihadis coming into India.”
He also uncovered
evidence of financial ties between higher level authorities in the West
Bengal Police. “I know it personally,” he insisted. “Every local police
station in West Bengal has a person called a ‘Dak Master’, who collects
the bribes.” Much of that, he said, comes from brokers who bring in
Bangladeshis illegally, often with the help of BSF personnel.
“Frequently, I have faced those incidents,” he said.
we observed the same BSF complicity in the tiny town of Panitanki on
the India-Nepal border. A bridge over the Mechi River allows people and
vehicles to cross freely. As a steady stream of trucks, covered wagons,
and men carrying large packages entered India, my Bengali colleagues
would point to one and say ‘arms’; to another and say ‘drugs.’ “That
one has counterfeit bank notes,” one said, “a big smuggling business.
illegal activity was so open that even I became adept at identifying
the contraband. No one seemed concerned even though the area is
notorious for smuggling and a known entry point for Islamist and Maoist
terrorists into India. No one checked any packages or stopped a single
individual — until I pulled out my camera. As we passed a pile of
sandbags, two soldiers emerged and brandished their rifles and demanded
I put away my camera. I protested vehemently until they threatened to
In exchange for putting it away, I asked them
to let me cross the bridge into Nepal. They demurred, insisting that as
an American I needed a Nepalese visa to cross, even though third
country nationals frequently take rickshaws or other conveyances into
Nepal. But they let me walk to the border in the centre of the bridge
where it became clear why the soldiers did not want me taking pictures.
The flow of contraband was heavy, continuous, and open. We also saw
people running across the dried river bed on either side of the bridge,
many carrying large parcels.
While our enemies do this for a
principle, these officials do it for nothing more than money: Changing
the demographics along the border, compromising India’s security, and
throwing away one of its greatest legacies in its reverence for life.
-- The writer campaigns for minority rights in Bangladesh.
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