The girl who died strung on the Bangla border fence may finally get justice

FrontFelaniís father (left) and uncle (right) with a Bangladesh official and a lawyer
Did Felani die soon after she was shot? Or did the 15-year-old scream for hours for help, maybe for water, strung up on the border fence between Bangladesh and India? These are questions her father Nurul Islam hopes a BSF court of inquiry that began this week will answer. Islam crossed the border on August 17 to depose before the court of inquiry.

On January 7, 2011, Felani Khatun was shot while crossing over to Bangladesh at the international border checkpoint at Chaudharihat in Dinhata, Cooch Behar, in West Bengal. Horrific pictures of her body, clad in a striking red kurta and blue salwar, hanging upside down on the barbed wire fence had spread across cyberspace. The body had hung for hours until officials of the BSF and Bangladesh border guards reached the spot and cut the fence.

Bangladesh called Felani's death a gross violation of human rights. The evidence was too stark to be ignored, and a first-of-its-kind court of inquiry was set up. The panel includes five senior BSF officers, headed by DIG, Falakata, Ashok Kumar.

The BSF man who allegedly shot Felani has been identified as Amiya Ghosh, and charged with culpable homicide not amounting to murder.

Last Saturday, Nurul Islam, the only eyewitness to the incident, appeared before the BSF court. He arrived along with Felani's uncle Hanif Ali, a lawyer and Bangladeshi officials. Sources said a total 16 witnesses would testify, and statements of 10 have been recorded. The witnesses include two villagers and BSF and local police personnel.

"This is not a fight between India and Bangladesh, neither do we have a grudge against the BSF," Islam's lawyer Abraham Lincoln said. "We are demanding justice for Felani. She was not carrying arms or any illegal articles. Her only fault was that she was born an illegal immigrant. She didn't deserve death for that."

Speaking over the phone from Bangladesh, Islam recalled that he was taking Felani to Bangladesh so that she could meet a youth from their native Kurigram district that he had chosen for her to marry. The engagement was to take place the next day. Felani, who was born in Bongaigaon in Assam, adjacent to Cooch Behar district, to illegal immigrant parents, had been to Bangladesh only twice but reportedly wanted to marry and settle there.

Islam said he had been unable to arrange a "dalal" (tout) at Bongaigaon to help them cross. At Dinhata, he said, they hired "Indian border agent" Muzzaffar Hussain for Rs 3,000. "At the check-point, I crossed over, but my daughter's leg got caught in the wire. She started calling me for help, which drew the attention of the BSF patrol party. A BSF man fired. I was scared and started running towards the neighbouring Bangladeshi village, thinking Felani would follow. But she did not come. I returned to the spot after some time to discover her hanging from the fence," he said.

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