Life along the bloody border between India and Bangladesh: A photo essay

17 January 2022

Partha Sengupta is a documentary photographer based in Calcutta. His work focuses on the Bengal Partition and its socio-political legacies.

In this photoessay, Partha Sengupta explores the violence endured by those who live on the border shared by West Bengal in India and Bangladesh at the hands of the Indian Border Force (BSF), a paramilitary body under the Ministry of Home Affairs of India.

In 2010, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published Trigger Happy: Excessive Use of Force by Indian Troops at the Bangladesh Border, a report on the border shared by West Bengal in India and Bangladesh. HRW documented the excessive use of force by the Indian Border Force (BSF) on the people of India and Bangladesh who live on both sides of the international border.

The BSF is a paramilitary body under the Ministry of Home Affairs of India entrusted to maintain security in the border areas with neighboring countries. The agency is governed by an Act of 1968 which is directly. They have their own internal judiciary and civilian courts are not allowed to pass judgment of any member of BSF. This privilege has contributed to create a climate of impunity against the excesses of the agency members.

The 2,216 kilometers Bangladesh-India border is one of the longest in the world; it densely populated and people who live along it are divided by country, but have much in common in terms of language and culture. There are 1,062 outposts along the border with smaller posts in between where border guards are on constant alert. These posts are mostly managed by non-Bengali speaking forces, who are unable to communicate with the locals thus often escalating tensions and confrontations. Some parts of the border are more porous and function as a trade route for terrorists, human trafficking and smuggling of weapons, cattle and drugs. In 2013, the Global Post defined this border the worst in the world.

On the morning of 7 January 2011, a border guard killed in Indian territory Felani, a 15-year-old Bangladeshi girl, who tried to cross the border to Bangladesh with her father and was shot without warning. Following a report in a local newspaper in India, there was an international uproar against the heinous crime. The BSF conducted an internal investigation in which they acquitted the accused border guard. Nur Islam, Felani’s father, filed an appeal to the General Security Force Court of BSF, which did not change the judgement. Nur Islam further appealed to the Supreme Court of India, where the case is still pending.

On the night of 26 July 2014, Suman Islam, a Muslim youth, was heading home after attending a dinner invitation when BSF arrested him on suspicion of being a smuggler. They took him to their barrack and tortured him throughout the night. In the morning while he was still unconscious they took him to a district hospital without informing his family. After days of search, the family found Suman Islam, chained to a hospital bed while soldiers were on guard.

These are only two among the countless examples of violence that characterizes life along the border. The local organization, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha has been active since 1997 in addressing issues of human rights violations and to ensuring equality and justice along the border.

In July 2011, India and Bangladesh signed the Coordinated Border Management Plan that prohibits the use of lethal weapons by the BSF, but the plan has been hardly been enforced as the majority of deaths along the border happen because of the abuse of lethal weapons.

In February 2021, ten years after their first report, Human Rights Watch published a new indicting investigation on the abuses conducted by the BSF on the killings and abuses along the India-Bangladesh border. The report highlights a decade of broken promises and the ongoing impunity that characterizes the BSF behavior. As local residents remain victims of abduction, torture and killing, nothing has change over a decade to the misery of the people who live on both sides of the international border.

A wintry mist blurs the international border of West Bengal between India and Bangladesh.


Bablu lost both eyes after he was shot by an Indian border guard. His family sold part of their farmland for his medical treatment.


Husain Ali has been permanently crippled after he was shot by an Indian border guard and who left him unattended. Because of the wounds, Ali has been unable to resume his farming job.


Suhag Seheji was killed by a stone thrown by a BSF guard while he was bathing in the river. The security agency denied their involvement in the killing, but there were many witnesses to the incident.


Hazrat Ali is an activist, who has been the victim of constant intimidation by the border guards for denouncing their violence and abuses. The security agency falsely accused him of smuggling, for which he had been arrested and later got bailed. Hazrat Ali filed a police complaint against the BSF, but they have not withdrawn the charges.


Badruddin Mia lost his right arm because of a bullet injury caused by a border guard.


Anjuman was praying when Indian border guards raided her home searching for a smuggler and brutally murdered her husband.


A family photo of Felani on her birthday. She was brutally murdered in 2011 by an Indian border guard while crossing illegally to Bangladesh with her father for her marriage.


Fikarul sits with his family and a girl from the neighborhood on the terrace of his home. He lost his eyesight because of a pellet injury caused by an Indian border guard while chasing a smuggler.


During an interview, Pachananda broke down remembering his two sons who were killed by the Indian border guards while bathing in the river.


People of the border town Hakimpur protest against the BSF and their abusive treatment of local population.


Suman Islam was severely beaten by border guards. In the incident he lost an eye and was left paralyzed.


Swapan stands with his family on the bank of the river Padma, where his son Achintya was murdered and dumped by the Indian border guards. Many days later, his body was found by the family near the river.
The above essay
is a part of