Sitting in front of his mud-house in the border village of Sirachar, in Murshidabad district, fisherman Bikash Mondal (32) considers himself lucky to be alive. He was one of the three fishermen detained by the Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) on October 17, after they reportedly strayed into the Bangladesh side of the Padma river.
The incident led to a flag meeting on Thursday, during which a BSF jawan, Vijay Bhan Singh, was killed and another injured after the BGB opened fire.
After the three fishermen were caught by the BGB, Pranab Mondal (41), the boat owner, was detained, while the other two — Bikash and Achintya Mondal (28) — were sent back and told to call the BSF for a flag meeting. Bikash accompanied the BSF personnel for the flag meeting, which took place in Bangladesh waters, while Achintya remained on the river bank.
“When they said they would not release Pranab, we were returning to our boat. The next minute, they fired shots at us,” said Bikash. “When I heard bullets being fired, I ducked inside the boat just in time to save myself. I didn’t know what was happening. Later, I saw a BSF man in a pool of blood and another with injuries on his hand,” he said.
The Padma river acts as a riverine border between India and Bangladesh in Jalangi area of Murshidabad district.
“We were in the centre of the river, yet the BGB said we had entered Bangladesh waters. They took our fishing nets and the Hilsa fish which we had caught. We have been fishing in Padma river for over 15 years now, but never faced such a situation before,” said Bikash.
“We are too scared to go back to the river. If the river is not safe for BSF jawans, it is not safe for fishermen. I don’t know when I will be able to fish in Padma river again,” said Achintya, who has a family of five to feed.
Meanwhile, Pranab is still in the BGB’s custody. His wife, Rekha, a bidi worker, said Pranab makes about Rs 20,000 to Rs 30,000 in the Hilsa season. She said she is now finding it difficult to feed her four children. “We want the BSF to make attempts to bring back my husband... He bought fishing nets and other equipment for this Hilsa season,” she said.
Special Director General (Eastern Command), BSF, Sanjeev Kumar Singh, visited the Kakmari Char border outpost and met Bikash and Achintya. All the BSF personnel who went for the flag meeting were stationed at Kakmari Char border outpost, which is about 100 metres from the Padma River.
“One boat was intercepted mid-stream. Two fishermen were sent back to call BSF personnel for a flag meeting. We are conducting an inquiry into what occurred during the meeting. As far as we know, they fired shots when our personnel were returning. One jawan was martyred and another is undergoing treatment at a hospital. The entire matter is being discussed at the appropriate level. The BSF is making all efforts to bring back the fisherman who is still with the BGB. I also interacted with the villagers as the fishing activity in the border has been affected due to the incident. Our local commander will take the decision on when to resume fishing,” Singh told reporters.
Singh said the BSF personnel did not fire at the BGB personnel. “It was an unfortunate incident and not expected at all. We have such a good relationship with each other. We are trying to find out why such an incident took place. As per our inputs, there was no aggressive stance from our end, as there was prior intimation of a flag meeting,” he said.