Exposing the huge un-Hindu racket
A chilling narrative
Dr Richard L Benkin
Were you to visit West Bengal and tell people that cattle were being smuggled from India to Bangladesh, the most typical reaction to your comment would likely be a shrugged shoulder and something along the lines of ‘yes of course, everyone knows that.’ Your listener would also tell you that ‘everyone knows’ the West Bengal Police and Indian Border Security Force (BSF) receive a steady stream of bribes to let it happen. It is one thing, however, for ‘everyone’ in Bengal to know about the smuggling and massive police and BSF complicity and corruption; but it is something else for a foreigner to know it and to have obtained photographic and video evidence of it, which is what happened during my recent trip to the region.
Three years ago, my Bengali colleague (Bikash Halder) and I had a late-night, clandestine meeting in Kolkata with two individuals who claimed to have seen both the smuggling and corruption. One of them “Samir,” told us that his backyard sits on the border with Bangladesh and that “after 10 pm, you can see everything.” So we asked if Halder could see for himself, which he did, and he confirmed what our informant had alleged (“Smuggling of cattle must stop,” The Pioneer, October 5, 2009). When I was visiting West Bengal last month and Halder told me that we were going to Bangaon, I did not realise that we were going to visit our old friend, Samir; but we were. Nor did it click with me when we passed a BSF encampment where scores of cattle were penned in, and one of my colleagues said that they had been “collected” by the BSF.
But shortly after we passed the BSF station, we arrived at our friend’s home. It really does butt up against the border, which at that point is formed by the easily crossed Ichamati River. There is no fence or border patrol on either side of the river, or any “no man’s land” other than the river itself. So, after greeting our old friend, we walked to the river bank only to be hit with the sight of a dead and bloated cow rotting in the hot sun not far from the Indian shore. Samir then pointed across the river to Bangladesh where two youngsters were attempting to pull a recalcitrant steer out of the mud. The bovine had to know what fate awaited him once he was taken into Bangladesh because he successfully resisted the smugglers until an older man helped them extricate the animal. Almost simultaneous with that, we heard a large splash to our right and quickly turned to see a young man taking another cow across the river. As soon as they arrived on the other side, we heard another, then another, and more. Within perhaps 20-30 minutes we saw close to a dozen cattle being taken from India to Bangladesh. And this was not “after 10 pm” but in broad daylight more like 10 am.
The smuggling took place not half a kilometer from that BSF encampment; and on the video we took, you can hear my yells and plaintive cries for us to do something to save these innocent creatures. The video also captures my colleagues’ response that there is “nothing we can do,” not only because the smugglers are dangerous criminals but also because the police and BSF “are with them.” (The aforementioned 2009 article documents the massive and institutional corruption in the BSF and West Bengal police that allows this to continue. It is so open and accepted that each police location has an individual, known as the Dak Master, charged with collecting the graft.) Whether it was due to our presence and yells or not, the smuggling stopped and we went to the areas where the smugglers launched their crossings to investigate further. When we arrived, we saw a cleared path by which the cattle were led down to the river and then taken into the water as we had just observed. Piles of dung along the path provided physical evidence of bovine presence; and at the water’s edge we saw dogs gnawing at the carcass of another dead animal that the smugglers could not force across the border. The day was hot and the sun bright such that it would have been impossible for those nearby BSF personnel not to detect the stench of its decomposition.
Were these animals taken from among those “collected” by the BSF? While we have no iron-clad proof that they were, we did follow the smugglers’ path from the water toward the road and saw that it led in the direction of the BSF camp. We also spotted and gave chase to one of the smugglers who eventually eluded us.
While the very thought of slaughtering these innocent creatures is repugnant to many of us, India’s cattle smuggling trade is doing much more harm, as well. If for a moment, we free ourselves from the tyranny of political correctness and the fear of being called “communal,” we will see clearly that there is a battle between Hinduism and Islam for the soul of India. It might not be between every Hindu and every Muslim, but it is no less an epic struggle. To be exact, it is a struggle between an Islam that wants hegemony over the entire subcontinent, and a Hinduism that wants to live freely in its own part of it. Evidently, many Muslims considered the 1947 Partition of India that lopped of its northwest and far east only the first increment. The ethnic cleansing of Hindus in Kashmir might be called the second. And there has been ample evidence—from several (failed) attempts by Pakistan to seize territory to calls to arms from South Asian mosques every Friday—that Pakistan and Kashmir were only the initial goals.
Bimal Primanik, director of the Kolkata-based Centre for Research in Indo-Bangladesh Relations, has made a career of tracking demographic changes in West Bengal, and what he has found should give everyone pause to consider. In the second half of the twentieth century, the Muslim proportion of West Bengal’s population rose by 25 per cent, while its Hindu population declined by nine per cent. Nor was this a random process but, as Primanik demonstrates, a “planned migration from Bangladesh,” not dissimilar from Adolf Hitler’s pre-war territorial expansion and the seizure of “non-Aryan” assets. “This continuous infiltration from across the border is slowly and steadily changing the demographic pattern in the border areas [and] threatening our secular polity and national security.” He believes that India’s “secular political environment…. appeasement of aliens for the purpose of garnering votes [and] a weak, undefined and unorganised secular frame facilitate this change”; to which I would add another: the weakening of any sense that the existing culture is worth saving.
If that culture can be tossed aside for a few rupees, how much value can it have? And if toward the same end, law enforcers routinely act as law breakers, how much value can the rule of law in India have? The British journalist, Melanie Phillips, ascribes the Islamisation of Europe to among other things the progressive weakening of Christianity on that continent, such that there was nothing to match the religious zeal of the massive Muslim immigration that followed the Euro-Arab Dialogue, which was agreed to in exchange for the Arabs lifting their 1973 oil embargo. The demographic changes that Primanik documents and the top to bottom complicity in cattle smuggling—which in effect is the abandonment of one of India’s most recognisable elements of its cultural and religious heritage—is evidence that this process is underway on India’s eastern flank. If the rest of India tolerates it, can they be far behind in their easy abandonment of heritage?