Fostering Friendship

The simple joint retreat ceremony at the Indo-Bangladesh border is a festive occasion for the villagers

Dilip Kumar Mekala

Petrapole: It is about five in the evening and the sun has begun to set. The crowd has started to gather. At this hour, the busiest land trade transit point between India and Bangladesh, Petrapole-Benapole, gears up for the joint retreat ceremony. Songs of Bangladeshi poet Kazi Nazrul Islam and India’s Rabindranath Tagore fill the air, creating a patriotic atmosphere. Contingents of about 10 soldiers each from Border Security Force (BSF) and Border Guards Bangladesh (BGB) respectively march up to the gate at zero line and open the door. Many from among the crowd come there just to watch the troops in full regalia, conducting the drill in perfect unison, and finally, lowering the respective national flags. For the sleepy border villages, it is certainly a glamorous event.

BSF contingent at the joint retreat ceremony

“This is completely different from the joint retreat ceremony at Attari-Wagah border,” explained a BSF officer. On any usual day at the event, there are no jingoistic slogans, no signs of antagonism, no provocative hand gestures - hardly any waving of flags. “This event celebrates the friendship between the countries,” further added the officer. Perhaps, the only thing common between the retreat ceremony here and the one at the Attari-Wagah border, besides the lowering of the national flag of course, is the song from the Bollywood movie, Border, ‘Sandese aate hain, humme tadpate hain’.

It is hard to miss the cordial nature of the ceremonial parade. In the 15-20 minute parade, troops from both the border guarding forces shake hands many a time. And each time they shake hands, the crowd erupts in applause. The applause reaches a crescendo as the troops greet each other one more time. This time around, the crowd hurriedly clicks pictures on their mobile phone cameras, so as not to miss the special moment. “Here the people will not see the adrenaline rushing aggression which is on display at Attari in Punjab. The ceremony at Petrapole is much subdued in comparison and focuses more on the finer aspects of shared Bangla culture,” informs another BSF officer.

On national holidays, it’s celebration time in the evening. School children from both the countries participate in the celebrations, highlighting the cultural aspects of their respective countries. Also, women contingents from both the forces participate in the retreat ceremony.

In addition to the ceremonial friendship on display that celebrates the Bengali culture, the event is also a show of strength. Albeit subtly. Since BSF is better equipped than its counterpart, it acknowledges that the training aspect for the joint retreat drill has been initiated by them, with the full co-ordination of the BGB of course. “We know our boys do a better job at the joint retreat,” said one officer. Clearly, the experience at the Attari-Wagah border has come handy at this daily ritual. But the emphasis remains on putting up a good show that celebrates the peaceful and cordial relationship between the two countries.

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