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'Stop arbitrary blockades on roads to farm land, mosque off West Bengal border'

Counterview Desk 
In a complaint to the District Magistrate, Coochbehar, West Bengal, human rights defender Kirity Roy, who is secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), has said that there is “unlawful restriction of villagers” from not only going to their own farmlands”, but also their mosque, imposed by BSF personnel in the Jhaukuthi Village of Tufanganj I block, under Tufanganj PS.
Roy, in a representation, demanded, “BSF must stop putting up arbitrary blockades on the roads in Jhaukuthi and harassing and inconveniencing the villagers. The border fence must be shifted to the actual international border, along the International Border Pillars, and not pass through the Jhaukuthi Village; and BSF must also be posted at the actual border, not inside the village.”

Text:

I want to bring into your notice the matter of unlawful restriction of villagers from going to their own farmlands, and the unlawful blockade of a mosque (the only mosque in the area) by BSF personnel in the Jhaukuthi Village of Tufanganj I block, under Tufanganj PS, Cooch Behar district, West Bengal; wherein the said restrictions and blockades have been imposed by the 31st Battalion of Border Security Force stationed at gate no. 3 of the Jhaukuthi Border Outpost. BSF personnel have arbitrarily dug trenches and built blockades and checkposts on the CPWD road passing through the village on the superfluous pretext of preventing smuggling, and these trenches have, on one instance, entirely blocked the passage of some of the villagers to their own agricultural land situated inside the border fence, and on another instance, blocked the entrance to the only mosque in this village populated by a 100 percent Muslim population.
In fact, the border fence is not constructed on the actual border between India and Bangladesh, but contrarily, built well inside the Indian Territory and through the villages and habitation of the bordering populace in Cooch Behar District. This phenomenon of erratic fencing is very normal through the Indo-Bangladesh bordering areas of West Bengal and causing immense encroachment on the rights and freedoms of bordering populace.
On fact-finding, we find two cases of unlawful restrictions imposed by the BSF personnel of the 31st Battalion, stationed at Gate no. 3, Jhaukuthi BOP, on the movement and congregation of villagers in the Jhaukuthi Village under the Balabhut Panchayat, Tufanganj I Block, Cooch Behar District, resulting in gross impediments to their livelihoods and their religious practices. The village consists entirely of Muslim families.
On 28th December, 2022, BSF personnel have arbitrarily put a bamboo fence across the road connecting the village to the CPWD road, and have blocked all movement on that road that had been used by about 100 peasant families to access the CPWD road as well as to transport the produce of their land. They now have to take a detour of about 2 kilometers to reach a point which is only 50 meters away; and the path they now have to take is full of inconveniences and dangers and they somehow undertake the unsafe journey through shrubbery, swamps and across streams, everyday.
Said peasants’ agricultural lands are also situated inside the barbed-wire border fence which passes through Jhaukathi village, well inside the Indian Territory. This road that is now blocked by the BSF was also the only road via which they used to transport their crop produce.
They submitted a petition to the BDO, Tufanganj I block on the very next day of installation of this bamboo blockade, but no action was taken. They submitted another petition to the BDO on 22nd May, 2023, begging to remove this illegal blockade, but, despite repeated requests, no initiative has yet been taken to investigate this matter or remove the blockade.
There is one mosque to the north of Gate no. 3, Jhaukuthi BOP, where about 100 families from the area offer their prayers (namaz) five times a day, everyday; as well as offer their prayers on the two festivals of Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-uz-Zoha. BSF personnel from the 31st Battalion stationed at gate no.3, Jhaukuthi BOP, brought in heavy machinery and dug a trench in front of the mosque, and put up a bamboo barricade in front of the gate of the mosque – blocking all access to this place of community worship. Hayder Ali, Secretary of the Management Commitee of said Mosque, alongwith other residents of Jhaukuthi village, submitted a written petition to the BDO, Tufanganj I Block, Cooch Behar, requesting that the blockade be lifted. This is a gross violation of the villagers’ fundamental right to pursue their religious practice, putting a direct blockade on their place of religious congregation and worship; but, no action has been undertaken by the BDO so far in alleviating this violation and removing the unlawful blockade as well as restoring the road leading to the mosque.
These arbitrary and illegal blockades by BSF are in gross violation of the fundamental rights of the people of Jhaukuthi to free movement within their own country and to pursue their own religious faith and manage their religious affairs. It stands in violation of:
Sub-clause (d) of Clause (1) of Article 19 and Article 26, Constitution of India are being violated by the posted BSF troops under command of COY Commander of Jhoukuthi BOP, 31 BN BSF.
We therefore request your immediate intervention in this matter, with the following demands from our side:
  1. The unlawful blockade (on the road connecting the village to the CPWD road) in front of the CPWD road passing beside Jhaukuthi village must be lifted immediately, allowing safe passage of villagers and agricultural produce.
  2. The unlawful blockade in front of the Mosque in Jhaukuthi must be lifted immediately and the government must repair the damage done to the road in front of the mosque due to trench-digging by BSF.
  3. BSF must stop putting up arbitrary blockades on the roads in Jhaukuthi and harassing and inconveniencing the villagers. The border fence must be shifted to the actual international border, along the International Border Pillars, and not pass through the Jhaukuthi Village; and BSF must also be posted at the actual border, not inside the village.
  4. If the land that falls between the current border fence and the IBP is needed by the Government of India for the purposes of national security, then the government must procure said land under the provisions of the Land Acquisition Act, and pay due compensation and rehabilitation to the peasants.

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