A middle-aged woman has been stranded on a small sandy ‘char land’ on River Feni, which divides India and Bangladesh in southern Tripura, for the past 11 days.
Border authorities of both countries claim she is not their citizen and the other side has pushed her on the zero line, which is effectively on the middle of a shallow stretch of the river.
Locals from Kathalchari and Amtali village in the vicinity allege they saw Border Guards of Bangladesh (BGB) abetting a group of Bangladeshi nationals prod the woman to enter India. Similar accounts of this have surfaced from three different places at three different times, all on April 2.
Border Security Force (BSF) officers said when they spoke to BGB personnel about the woman and the account of the locals, they maintained she was an Indian national.
“On April 2 afternoon, we heard an uproar near the river. We rushed to see a group of 20-25 Bangladeshis poking at a woman with sticks and prodding her to enter India. BSF guys patrolling the area thwarted the effort and she eventually went away,” 28-year old Sushanta Basak, a resident of border Kathalchari village of South Tripura, told indianexpress.com.
Tripura shares an 856-km international border with Bangladesh. Almost none of this stretch has any ‘No Man’s Land’, and the zero line acts as the boundary between the two countries.
The Indian side has barbed wire fence erected 150 yards inside the zero point, while Bangladesh has its border pillars. But 67 kilometres of the border-line is still unfenced in different patches on Indian side. Kathalchari and Amtali are some of these patches.
Rupam Basak, another eyewitness from Kathalchari, said, “We never go to the river. BSF personnel have strictly prohibited us from bathing, fishing, or even going near it. But the Bangladeshis frequently come, steal our vegetables and our cattle. This woman is a Bangladeshi and she was pushed inside the Indian territory by Bangladeshi people. We also saw BGB guys standing inactive, watching as the events transpired.”
This happened right in front of a BGB Border Out Post (BOP) at Ramgarh village on the Bangladesh side, the locals said. They have photographs of the incident, they claimed.
The woman finally crossed the border and settled down on a small sandy ‘char land’ on the river close to Amtali, another nearby village.
This entire village lies right across the border. For many who live here, the unfenced border is part of daily life.
Suman Debnath, a youth from Amtali, said he saw a team of BGB personnel armed with sticks pushing the woman inside Indian territory late night on April 2.
“It was past midnight. I peeked out hearing a hullabaloo and saw both BSF and BGB guys flashing torches at a woman standing in between both countries. BGB men were trying to get her inside our country,” he said.
Debnath, along with a few others from the village, later went to meet her on the ‘char land’. She told them she was not ‘authorised’ to divulge her name, address or other details.
“It appears from her accent that she is a Bangladeshi. She made several references of places like Mirpur, which are in that country. Her behavior was eccentric. She has been sitting on that lump of sand for the past 11 days and hasn’t taken any food from us,” he added. However, Bangladeshi people were reportedly seen providing her food and water from time to time.
The woman also said she was heartbroken after her husband Farooq married another woman back home.
Minati Paul, a 55-year old woman and her daughter-in-law Shilpi Paul, gave a similar account. All of them conclude the “mentally unstable woman” from Bangladesh was pushed inside India by Border Guards of Bangladesh for unknown reasons.
A BSF personnel posted at the border outpost said the woman was a Bangladeshi, and Bangladesh should take her back on humanitarian grounds.
On being contacted, a BSF PRO said an extensive inquiry was conducted into the issue, which revealed the woman is indeed a Bangladeshi national and an attempt was made to push her into the Indian territory. She is now on a ‘char land’ on the Bangladesh side, he said.
Meanwhile, similar reports came from a place roughly 100 meters away from Amtali village and from Samarganj, another village in the same sub-division. A young woman and a 45-year old man, both reportedly mentally unstable, were identified in both places in the past 24 hours. They later returned to Bangladesh after a meeting between corresponding sector commanders of both border guard forces, BSF officials said.
Locals say this is a pattern, where mentally unstable people are often pushed into India from Bangladesh.
At least 18 such people from Bangladesh are currently under treatment at Modern Psychiatric Hospital in Agartala. These individuals are released back into Bangladesh from time to time after their recovery, Dr. Jyotirmoy Ghosh of the hospital told indianexpress.com. Recently, Bithi Akhter, one such patient who was treated to full recovery for eight years in Tripura, was handed back to her family in Bangladesh at an Integrated Check Post (ICP) here.