Yesterday (January 7, 2023) marked the 12th death anniversary of Felani Khatun, whose killing stood out among the at least 1236 Bangladeshis who lost their lives at the hands of the Indian Border Security Force between 2000-2020 (Odhikar).
On January 7, 2011, fifteen-year-old Felani Khatun was gunned down by the BSF when she, along with her father, was returning home from India through Anantapur border along Phulbari upazila of Kurigram.
Felani and her father were not cattle smugglers, the usual victims of India’s trigger happy border guards (although opening fire unless they pose a threat is also illegal under Indian law). In fact, she used to work as a domestic help in New Delhi.
The little girl was obviously unarmed and represented no threat. The image that went viral of her body stuck on the barb-wire border fence, shot in the act of climbing past it, disturbed the conscience of people on both sides of the fence.
Read more: 11 years of Felani Killing: wait for justice gets longer
A case filed against the BSF in an Indian court with the cooperation of Indian human rights activists remains pending in the Indian High Court. Twelve years on, a sense of despondency has gripped the parents of Felani in their search for justice.
Though the judicial proceedings in the case have been delayed due to Covid-19, they still expressed their hope to stop the border killings through the establishment of justice.
Felani's death triggered a huge global outcry as the photo of her body hanging upside down went viral. The BSF men handed over the body a day after her killing.
Following the outcry on both sides of the border, BSF started an internal investigation into the incident and submitted a chargesheet against its constable Amiya Ghosh, who fired the fatal shot. It was the first such instance for a killing in the Bangladesh portion of India’s massive border.
Read more: Border killing: Photo exhibition held on Felani’s home premises
However, a special court constituted by the BSF acquitted Amiya Ghosh of the charge in August 2013.
Later, in the wake of widespread criticism of the acquittal, BSF decided to revive the murder trial. Yet another judicial court upheld the previous verdict and acquitted Amiya Ghosh again in July 2015.
Following this, Felani's father Nurul Islam with the help of the Indian human rights organisation Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (Masum) filed a writ petition with the Supreme Court of India.
The Supreme Court bench, headed by the country’s chief justice, show-caused several Indian bodies including the Home Ministry, in this regard.
Read more: Justice eludes Felani’s family
Talking to UNB, Felani’s father, Nurul Islam, said, “My daughter was killed by the BSF member in front of my eyes while crossing the border but I did not get justice in the last 12 years. The date of the trial proceedings was deferred several times. Now, I demand capital punishment for Amiya Ghosh and I hope the governments of the two countries reach an agreement to revive the judicial process and complete it."
Jahanara Begum, mother of Felani, said, "I was in India when my daughter was killed. My soul will not rest until justice is done for my daughter's murder."
After twelve years, the family is in need of closure, and although the border killings have dropped significantly, the stated objective of both sides to bring them down to zero is still some way off.
Looking at the number killed each year since the turn of the century, it is tempting to suggest that the Felani killing’s aftermath had some restraining effect on BSF jawans freely exercising a shoot-to-kill policy along the 4096-kilometre border with Bangladesh that is conspicuously absent from the standard operating procedure followed for its other international borders with various other countries.
Read More: Border killings not expected: Shahriar Alam
Bangladeshi deaths in BSF firing peaked at 155 in 2006, and remained above one hundred in 2007. Triple figures were nearly breached once again in 2009 (98), and fell to a still very high 74 in 2010. Then right at the start of 2011, Felani was killed. There would be just 30 more such deaths that year.
Although the 50 mark would be crossed again for the first time in ten years in 2020, they have been pulled back again. Although their final figure isn’t in yet, watchdog Ain o Salish Kendra counted ‘at least 16 deaths’ in 2022.
SM Abraham Lincoln, public prosecutor of Kurigram district who has stood by the family through the entire period, said despite the showcause notices, no hearings have been held as yet on the writ petition by a bench of the Indian Supreme Court.
"Even if it is delayed, the friendly relations and peaceful borders between the two countries will be established through justice," he hoped.
Read More: BGB, BSF agree to cut border killings.