In India there are many human rights organisations with the People's Union of Civil Liberties and the People's Union for Democratic Rights being the most famous. It is the smaller organisations which operate in areas and among people which are remote that lend depth and breadth to the human rights movement in this country. Many of these small organisations run on shoestring budgets powered by the energy of one or two individuals who have dedicated their lives to the cause of the deprived. This post is a tribute to one such stalwart, Kirity Roy, of the Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), a human rights organisation in West Bengal, who is pictured below.
Kirity has spent more than three decades taking up cases of custodial violence, custodial rape, torture & death, illegal detention and enforced disappearance from police custody, extra judicial killing and police ﬁrings. A concentrated effort to challenge the impunity of the State which severely restricts the freedom of individuals especially the marginalised poor through fact finding, documentation, public hearings and legal action primarily and sometimes even mass action. Not surprisingly he has often been targeted by the State and put behind bars himself and arraigned with many false cases. Even though his work is multi faceted one particular campaign of his deserves special mention because it is unique and no other organisation is doing this kind of work.
First a background has to be provided. Cow slaughter and export for slaughter is banned in India because the cow is considered to be holy by the Hindus. However, in neighbouring Bangladesh which is an overwhelmingly Muslim country beef is a major item of food and the hides of cows are in demand for processing into leather and leather products for export to the Western developed countries and so trade and slaughter of cows is legalised there. The demand for beef and hides in Bangladesh is much more than the indigenous supply there while the supply of cows is much more than the demand for beef and hides in India because this is met by the slaughter of buffaloes. Thus, a classical demand and supply mismatch of opposite kinds exists across the two countries and this has spawned a cross border trade in cows which is illegal in India but legal in Bangladesh.
There is currently a demand for two million cows from India and the trade value is US $ 1 billion. Thus, there are organised groups in both countries which bribe the police, the Border Security Force (BSF) and politicians and source cows from thousands of kilometers away and route them through the border between West Bengal and Bangladesh. However, since this trade is illegal the BSF has to show that it is trying to control it and this leads to repressive actions ranging from torture, rape and outright killing against people who smuggle the cows across in ones and twos without paying bribes or sometimes even after paying bribes. So ferocious is the repression of the BSF that the border has come to be called "The Wall of Death" with around fifty extra judicial killings of people every year and a total of more than a thousand killed so far. These people are the poor people residing on both sides of the border who in the absence of any sustainable occupation, take the risk of smuggling cows across. Here is a video of the inhuman behaviour of the BSF personnel