Cyclists on a Mission Covering Tripura-Meghalaya-Assam-Bengal Borderlands
Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav – BSF cycle rally
Securing the borders with guns and guards is one thing and doing it by involving borderlanders in creating the much-needed awareness about the impact of drugs and cross-border crime is another. While both these can complement each other, it takes a lot to do outreach especially when it comes to the borderlands where much of the population does not have the same levels of awareness and exposure as compared to the cities and urban locales.
The Border Security Force (BSF) which guards the country’s frontiers with Pakistan in the north and Bangladesh in the eastern flank covering a total of 4,096.7 kilometres, has been doing just that – guarding the borders 24×7 and at the same time pushing for community awareness initiatives to create not just an informed but a more well-informed society. The idea is two pronged, one to wean away youths from drugs and anti-social activities and the other to help build a strong community along the borderlands which can serve as a second line of defence against the ill effects of drugs and crime.
This year in connection with the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of India’s independence the BSF has put together a ‘Cycle Rally’ that began in ICP Akhaura in Tripura on November 1 and is presenting through Meghalaya en route to Guwahati and then finally ending up in South Bengal after covering a distance of 2200 kilometres. On November 14, the BSF Inspector general Meghalaya, Inderjit Singh Rana received all the 20 cyclists at the BSF Mawpat camp.
All along the journey so far which has covered approximately 665 kilometres, the cyclists have had one message loud and clear, that is its mission to create “a sense of security among border population,” and the need for a resolve on stopping trans-border crimes, and speaking about the negative impacts of drug use. The rally which is one of the many events which have been planned under the government of India’s ‘Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav’ initiative, also caters to the bigger objective which is to foster goodwill among communities and ethnicities residing along the bordering areas and propagate the message of patriotism & fraternity in bordering districts.
As for the border itself, many challenges persists which was reiterated by the Union Home Ministry in its 2021-2022 annual report. The report acknowledges that Illegal migration and cross-border activities are major challenges along the India-Bangladesh border, which is marked by a “high degree of porosity.”
The report further states that “The Indo-Bangladesh border is marked by a high degree of porosity and the checking of illegal cross border activities and illegal migration from Bangladesh to India have been major challenges.”
Besides cross-border crimes and also attempts by Islamic fundamentalist elements to infiltrate the border, narcotics meanwhile, have been a growing worry along the eastern flank. In particular, the increase in the flow of “yaba,” also known as “crazy medicine,” in Thai has been a cause of worry. The yaba pills are tablets form of methamphetamine and a very powerful stimulant which is usually produced in Myanmar and smuggled to Bangladesh through Maungdaw in the Rakhine state. These pills are then shipped out from Bangladesh to other parts of the world. According to intelligence sources, there has been a marked increase in the consumption of Yaba in north east India. Police sources claim that Mizoram has “the major drug trafficking route wherein Yaba tablets and various other synthetic drugs are smuggled from Myanmar.”
Further, of late there has been an increase in the smuggling of Phensedyl from across the border in Bangladesh. Over a 1000 bottles of Phensedyl were seized by the BSF South Bengal Frontier during the early part of this year. BSF officials had earlier in a media release said that in 2021 its South Bengal Frontier unit has confiscated about 1.64 million bottles of the cough syrup, slightly less than the 2.9 million which were confiscated in 2020.
The porosity of the borders which India shares with Myanmar and Bangladesh clearly makes it the most lucrative route for smuggling of narcotics drugs which is also what the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) data indicates. In its report which was placed before the parliament on July 7, 2022, the NCB has listed the seizure of 1,10,044 bottles of codeine from Assam and 80,000 bottles from West Bengal between 2019 and 2021. The total quantity of seizures makes up approximately 25% of what has been seized from all across the country.
While speaking at the event in Shillong held to honour the cyclists, BSF IG Rana emphasized the aim of the rally which is to spread a message on national integration and patriotism throughout its journey, and added such events would also boost the morale of youths of the country encouraging them to join BSF.
On November 11, Sandeep Rawat, DIG, sector Jowai, and other officials welcomed the rally as they entered the Meghalaya border area. A band display was staged upon their arrival followed by a cultural presentation by students from Holy Cross School in Umkiang. Most of the events along the way at various checkpoints were set up where these events and awareness campaigns were set up by both the border security force and citizens.
Through their travel from the point of origin that is Akhaura, the cyclists interacted with school children, NCC volunteers and youth in several locations along the Indo-Bangladesh border. BSF Jazz and Brass band enthralled the cyclists by playing patriotic songs followed by a Cultural programme presented by troops of 193 Bn and 110 Bn BSF.