Updated: December 2, 2021 9:47:45 am
In October, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs extended the jurisdiction of the Border Security Force (BSF) to 50 km from the border in Assam, Punjab and West Bengal, instead of the earlier 15 km. It was explained as a necessary step to secure the three border states from the inflow of narcotics and weapons, facilitated by drones, and infiltration by terrorists. On Tuesday, the director general of BSF, Pankaj Kumar Singh, said one probable reason for the Centre’s decision was that “the demographic balance has been upset in border states like West Bengal and Assam over a period of time”. Singh also added that “there have been agitations in certain states and there have been many revolts” because of the “demographic change”.
Of course, illegal infiltration across the border is a security challenge for the BSF. But drawing a link between “demographic change,” political protests, and the need for the BSF to get, literally, a wider berth, frames a security threat in a manner that undermines the local police and the state government. The ruling establishment and its foot-soldiers have frequently raised the spectre of demographic imbalance, mostly by misreading or misrepresenting population data, to polarise the society and for electoral mobilisation. The entire border has been fenced and is secured by the BSF. In the DG’s own admission, the BSF wants powers to operate deep within Indian territory to stop infiltration. The central force’s jurisdiction was extended in October only with respect to the powers of search, seizure and arrest that it currently has under the Criminal Procedure Code, Passport (Entry into India) Act, 1920 and the Passport Act, 1967. These are tasks that the state police are trained and equipped to carry out, which they do all over India. Instead, the central government has opted to deploy its own force, overriding objections by state governments, to engage the civilian population, a task it is not mandated or trained to do.
The government weaponised the idea of demographic change by amending the Citizenship Act with provisions that discriminated against Muslims. Read with the National Register of Citizens, it was perceived by Muslims, particularly in Assam and West Bengal, as a tool of harassment. The protests against the NRC and CAA were mobilisations against framing Indian citizenship in communal terms. That the BSF D-G echoed the same disquieting refrain to justify the need to go deeper is regrettable.
This editorial first appeared in the print edition on December 2, 2021 under the title ‘Border Insecurity’.
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