A Kick in India – Goals in Bangladesh

When the people of the world are shivering with the fever of joy that the world cup tournament is going to offer, the inhabitants of the India Bangladesh International Border (IBIB), specifically, No man’s Land area, cannot stay aloof from the wave of joy that comes with it. It is because the football game is more popular than cricket in the entire Northeastern Indian region and this is why, people of this region are very much inclined to it.

International Border Town (IBT) – Kailashahar (which is also the district headquarter town of North Tripura district of the Eastern Indian State, Tripura) is one of them, where like other children, the young boys of the country are very fond of the game of football (soccer in the US). They simply go to the ‘field’, armed with their ball to play as usual and to enjoy when they win the match.

But, the interesting fact is that, during the football-match, when one of the boys kicks the ball, the ball goes to either the net of the goalpost of Bangladesh or in the territory of Bangladesh! Yes, believe it or not, the goalpost is situated just on the ‘Zero-Line’ of the above IBIB.

Kailashahar 03
Kailashahar Football Field, on the IndoBangla international Border at the BSFI International Border Watch Post. On the right side incomplete IBWBF and beyond that International Border Check Post of Bangladesh.

“It is a fact that the ‘Football Math’ (that is, field) belongs to Radha Kishore Institute, but, it is just (within 08-metres to 10-metres) near the International Border Pillar Number (IBPN) – 1863 and its few portions lie on No-Man’s Land (that is, within the 138-metres or 150-yards area). Bangladeshi International Border Village (IBV)s – Telibeel and Sharifpur of Moulavi Bazar District of Bangladesh are situated just opposite to the above playground, while the playground is located exactly IBV Bolapasha and above IBT – Kailashahar of India.

Except an International Immigration Check Post (IICP) of Bangladesh, which are (just 30-feet away from the said field) placed western side of the aforesaid football ground, while on the other hand, International Border Out Post (IBOP) – Sharifpur of border security guards of Bangladesh (Bangladesh Defence Rifles, known as – BDR) is just around 01.50-kilometres away from the said ground. Similarly, the Indian IICP, Kailashahar exists there, but, International Frontier Border Guard (IFBG) – Border Security Of India (BSFI) is positioned at Mike IBOP area, which is just about 700-metres to 750-metres away from the above playground.

Not only that, there is no International Barbed Wire Border Fence (IBWBF) existing, due to vehement opposition from the Bangladesh side and the peoples of Bolapasha village and Kailashahar as well.

The most unfortunate thing is that in the heart of this IBT – Kailasahar, IBIB line has bifurcated the aforesaid playground, where the children of India now play their games with affection and amity. However, this bifurcation has hanged high on the relation and as a result of this; they have to stop playing any playground games there at times.

“Earlier, (that is, before the ‘Liberation War in 1971’) the children and teens of both countries were playing football games in this particular playground (which has approximately 120-metres to 150-metres/80-metres to 100-metres of land). But, it had suddenly stopped due to the war between India and East Pakistan of present Pakistan State (that is, at that time it was popularly known as- Purbo Bango or Purbo Bangla, presently, calls – Bangladesh) in the year 1971.

But, in the year, 2007, a friendly match was (between BSFI and BDR) organized to maintain peace and amity between the two countries, India and Bangladesh, but ultimately cancelled due to an unknown reason. However, we think if both sides will further arrange to play the footfall game (whether friendly or normally) as a goodwill gesture in this filed, then the cordial relation will be maintained between the above two nations and their international boundary areas and the anti-social crimes like – smuggling, anti-Indian activities, insurgency, et cetera will be reduced.

“Look, the Indo-Bangla international borderline in Eastern Indian Tripura State sector often gets blurred not only due to this region’s unique geographical location but also for close cultural and linguistic proximities of the people residing in both sides of the frontier. The said border here is not only thickly populated but also often offers no virtual divider for the national identities of the villagers.

The above football playground in the heart of Kailasahar is a unique case. It is located right on top of the international border and at one point in time used to be a popular destination for small children of both India and Bangladesh.

Bangladeshi children-mostly village boys- simply unmindful of the existence of any ‘border’- would just walk down to the field in the afternoon to share the same football, the same mud and the same drinking water stored in a bucket during the halftime in their daily ‘soccer game’. The teams would be -most of the time- mixed teams. The game would also often trigger dog fights between these mixed teams – a group of Indian and Bangladeshi children fighting against another group of Indian and Bangladeshis to settle a score. But, at the end the Bangladeshi boys, happy and satisfied and tired, would return to their home the way they had come. Neither BSFI nor the BDR would find any serious breach of international protocol in such childish intrusions. They would prefer to look the other way. But, that was before 1975.

However, the situation had changed during the last few decades -especially after Sheikh Mujibur Rahaman’s assassination. The military came to power in Dhaka with obvious pro-Pakistani inclination and the Indo-Bangla relations slowly took a turn. Strained relations resulted in suspicion and that also snowballed into the practical international border management within both sides taking a tougher approach – much to the dismay of the children, particularly the Bangladeshi village boys, as they would not find it easy to come to the aforesaid field to play soccer now. And gradually they stopped coming to said field altogether.

Now the above playing field belongs only to the Indian children. Yet, when there is an all Indian big game, still the children from Bangladesh would come and stand on their frontier to see the Indian children playing. They would shout encouragement to their favorites and in case the ball with long shot drops in their land they would gleefully pick it up and throw it back to the players. Perhaps, it is a classic case as to how manmade borders and manmade diplomatic relations deprive children of their simple pleasures and sports friendships that develop in spontaneity.

After Awami League-led Bangladesh Government came to power in Dhaka the Indo-Bangla relation is now evidently poised for a new era of mutual understanding and improved bilateral geo-strategic, diplomatic and trade cooperation’s, but still none could be very optimist that the lost childhood of sports spirit and friendship that a soccer field in Kailasahar had once offered for the kids of both sides of the border could be brought back,” pointed out renowned writer-journalist of the Northeast Indian region, Manas Paul.

“Look, today, the relation between the above two nations is very cordial, especially after Sheikh Hasina Wazed led Awami League (one of the well-known leading political party of Bangladesh) comes to power in Bangladesh. There is no offer from the Bangladesh side to play a football game here after the cancellation of the match in 2007. If BDR or Bangladesh Government further offers it to us, we will definitely rearrange the game in this particular playground for the sake of the good ‘relation’ of the peoples of the both side.”

“Apart from above Kailasahar and Bolapasha, similarly, a cross-country game or kick is played at IBV Lyngkhat hamlet under East Khasi Hills district of another Northeast India State, Meghalaya, which has also located on the zero-line, between the above two countries (near the IBPN between 1265/6-s to 1265/9-s), but the said football-field is just near IBPN-1265/6-s, while the land area of the said playground is about 300-acres to 350-acres.

Bishnukandi and Sonarhat IBOPs under Sylhet district of Bangladesh are situated just 200-metres to 250-metres away from the said field; while on the other hand, IBOP of BSFI is placed at Lyngkhat, which is just few metres away from the said ground. Not only that Bangladeshi IBVs – Islampur and Naogaon under Sylhet District are located just opposite of the said football playground,” told one of the BSFI official of 98-Battalion.

“Actually, a football match is generally played in the ‘national and international football-field’. But, interestingly, this particular football-filed has existed on the international borderline at IBV – Lyngkhat from the time of erstwhile East Pakistan of present Pakistan State, presently, Bangladesh. But, when the Indian children or teens kick the football, it bounces from Lyngkhat (that is, India) and rolls towards Bangladesh. However, the players change their positions, some time in India and very often in Bangladesh,” disclosed former legislator of Indian Meghalaya State Legislative Assembly (IMSLA) and the Transport Minister of Meghalaya State – Manirul Islam Sarkar.

On 30th March, 2006, in this context, Khan Khong Dkhar, the former local Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) of IMSLA and the former Border Area Development including Border Trade & Education (Mass & Elementary) minister of Meghalaya State further stated, “We (especially, our Indian peoples), who are living, whether on No-man’s Land or beyond the IBWBF want to ‘improve’ our relation with the people of Bangladesh especially, who live beyond the IBWBF through this football match, and it will be arranged in this particular football playground, but with the proper consent of both the governments as well as the international frontier border forces (BSFI and BDR) of both countries.”

In support of the matter again on 16th April, 2008, K. K. Dkhar – former legislator of the Indian national political party, Congress (Indira) of Nongshken Assembly Constituency of East Khasi Hills district of Meghalaya State disclosed, “Look, it is an open field but without IBWBF and the present situation of the adverse possession of the land is not at all tenable. Hence, to overcome the tensions that exist in the area under adverse possession of the land, it is very necessary and I can not but feel that Indian Central Government should come forward to take initiative in this matter.”

“Earlier (that is, before 1971), there were a number of competitive football games, various functions, et cetera organised in this football playground with a view to offering entertainment to all children and teens of both India and Bangladesh (specially of the international border areas) to make and to continue the ‘relation’ between the two nations normally and at that stage, the time and tide were permitted. But, suddenly after 1971, it had been stopped.

In a word, after partition between the above two nations, in the year 1971, the people of Bangladesh have been unable to use this particular football field as the land is under the jurisdiction of India. Practically and theoretically, this particular field exists in the ‘adverse possession’ category of land,” claimed octogenarian IBV headman of the IBV – Lyngkhat.

Throwing light upon fact, on 29th March, 2006, S. C. Srivastava, the former Inspector General (IG) of BSFI (who is the charge of Indian Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur and Nagaland States Frontier sectors) opined, “We have arranged volleyball competition matches and such other games and sports with players of Bangladesh and India, especially IBV people who live on the No-man’s land and in other places of this particular Indo-Bangla international border sector of Indian Assam, West Bengal, Tripura and also Meghalaya States with a view to improving relations and establishing amity between the people of India and Bangladesh. This is done in order to avoid any untoward incidents that are often held because of the international boundary between the two nations for nothing.”

Upon enquiry, the children and the youth of the aforesaid IBV Lyngkhat have revealed, “Though, we are playing football matches in this playground, we very rarely have seen the Bangladeshi children come here and join with us, when the soldiers of the BSFI are absent.”

“But, the most irritating thing is that we never play football in this ground peacefully due to BSFI, though, the soldiers of the BSFI strictly patrol these areas mostly from 06:00 pm to 06:00am,” said the youths of the aforesaid IBT, Kailashahar and IBV Bolapasha.

“In point of fact, BSFI soldiers are patrolling near the above two football playgrounds around the clock; because, the IBWBF is absent and it is happened due to vehement opposition from Bangladesh side and the peoples of Indian IBVs as well. The populaces of above IBVs thought that if IBWBF erects here they will not only lose the many playgrounds, abodes, cowsheds, shops, schools, banks, government and private offices, fruit-gardens, et cetera but also the relation, games and sports, marriage, people to people contact and business, et cetera between two nations will be discontinued or ended,” stated local publics of the Kailashahar.

Indeed, India is constructing International Barbed Wire Border Fencing (IBWBF) across its boundary with Bangladesh to prevent illegal incessant flow of Bangladeshi infiltrators, rampant smuggling and nonstop noxious anti-Indian activities (by the dreaded insurgents and religious fundamental groups and their leaders). Because of this, numbers of children and villagers have desisted from enjoying their daily, friendly football matches in these particular international border areas.

“We’re very much aware that we are playing in both India and Bangladesh. However, we never play with the Bangladeshi players, though we have heard also that football match in Bangladesh is very popular. The Bangladeshi players (that is, children) think that if they come here to play with us and if the soldiers of the frontier guard of IBIB, Border Security Force of India (BSFI) see it, it will create problem for them and for this reason, we can never stand face-to-face. But, in spite of this, when the BSFI jawans remain absent there, Bangladeshi children come and play in our ground, but its’ a rare case, you can say,” revealed one of the local football player of the Kailashahar.

According to the chief of the Central Public Works Department of India (CPWDI), who was constructing the IBWBF, “Northeast Indian States, Assam, Tripura, Meghalaya and West Bengal have 03,778.70 kilometres international borders with Bangladesh; although, major portions of the said boundary already has been fenced off.

But, yes, after thorough scrutiny, it has been found that the IBV areas, comprising hundreds and hundreds of inhabitants have not only become misplaced but also lost their paternal properties. Even, public (that is, Government) properties like – playgrounds, bazaars, religious places, cultivable-lands, ponds (that is, ethnic-fishery), abodes, cowsheds, shops, schools, banks, government and private offices, fruit-gardens, et cetera have also fallen outside the said international boundary (that is, on Bangladesh side),” revealed Suresh Kumar Dutta, who headed the federal border guards in Tripura.

“This unnecessary situation doesn’t arise due to an ‘illogical’ making of the IBWBF by the so-called ‘engineer’ or ‘official’ of the CPWDI or National Buildings Construction Company Limited of India (NBCCLI), This ‘unscientific’ demarcation has been created by the British Government, at the initiative of Sir Cyril Radcliff, the British Engineer, who divided the then Undivided India through an arbitrary line, during a partition between India and Pakistan (that is, former East-Pakistan, locally called East-Bengal, popularly known as Purba Bangla or Purba Banga, presently – Bangladesh) in 1947,” clarified the officials of the CPWDI.

“Actually, our people, who have been dwelling along the above international boundary line are very simple as well as innocent. They are in fact, not against the IBWBF, but against the ‘process’ by dint of which the demarcation was under taken or building this by CPWDI or NBCCLI, the agencies, which took the responsibility of constructing IBWBF; though, we understand the importance of constructing the IBWBF,” said one of the inhabitants of the Kailashahr during enquiry.

However, during ‘partition’, no villagers were engaged, when our area had been surveyed and demarcated by the Radcliffe Commission, which had been done arbitrarily. The villagers practically were also ‘forced’ to abide by that unscientific demarcation.

Again, in the year 1960, a new demarcation was made and fresh international borderline was sketched at the ‘expense of the IBV people’s soil. For this reason, we’re now seeking for a new demarcation, where our children can use the playground for playing their games and sports easily and get back our land smoothly, which have gone to Bangladesh and nothing else,” asserted local peoples of the Kailasahar.

On the other hand, the Bangladesh Government insisted to India that it must erect the IBWBF only at a distance of 150-yards (that is, 138-metres) from the actual point of ‘Zero Line’ and her own territory as per Joint India Bangladesh Guidelines for International Border Authorities, 1975.

But, unfortunately, every-time, BDR fires upon Indian side (specially, on labourers, who are in fact engaged to make the barbed wire fence) to stop the work of IBWBF that is going on this particular entire international boundary areas.

“Even, time-to-time, the Bangladesh Government knows it but does nothing. Bangladesh blames India and claims that the IBWBF, which has been constructed as a ‘defence potential’ in the name of illegal smuggling and infiltration, while as per bilateral pact or international border agreement between the two respective countries, signed in the year, 1975, prohibits construction of any kind of structure, which has been defence potential within the 150-yards from the Zero Line, that is the actual border.

However, the Government of India in this context, has clearly stated that IBWBF cannot be termed as structure, which is defence potential, while it is made only to prevent the illegal incessant infiltration and smuggling from Bangladesh to India and nothing else,” emphasized former Director General (DG) of BSFI, Government of India, R. S. Mushairy.

But, whether little Khongsdier or little Lamin and his friends understand the situation that exists between the two nations is a different story. They know only that they belong to a very good football team constituted in the aforesaid IBV named Lyngkhat village. Their team often arranges competitive football matches that are played between the children and the youth of both sides, especially, those who dwell upon the land that exist beyond the Zero-line. The international field, where the games held exist in no where but in the above Lyngkhat hamlet. Players of the team often exchange their position, while playing any match with the youths of Bangladesh–sometimes in India and very often in Bangladesh. This happens because of the facts that half of the said playground falls in India and the rest in Bangladesh or it may say one half of the games are played in India and the other half in Bangladesh. International Cross Border Game (ICBG), football field has existed nowhere but in the Lyngkhat hamlet.

Indeed, the residents of IBV, who are actually living in the No-Man’s Land areas or beyond the IBWBF areas have neither peace nor prosperity. The IBV peoples have neither good agency nor institution for offering entertainment to their beloved children and youth. As a result of this, most of the time, the children and the youths of these aforesaid IBVs have a monotonous life. Not only does this monotony hangs high upon them because of the fact that they have no scope to enjoy cinemas, theatres, and so on, except radio and television except in few areas. So they are compelled to live a very boring life.

Therefore, to do away this unbearable state of life, they are sometimes, compelled to arrange games and sports, especially football matches, volleyball competitions, and so on with the children and youth those, who are also residents beyond either the No-man’s Land or IBWBF. This is how, the ‘International Cross Border Football Match’ has come into existence.

According to social scientists, ‘These children and youth are human beings. They cannot live in monotony or while away their time here and there aimlessly for want of a good field, where they can pass their leisure time in games and sports.’