Life in the Sunderbans

Tiger is not the only challenge in the mangrove forests of Bengal, the BSF faces a tough time manning the villages along the International Border

Dilip Kumar Mekala

Hasnabad is the last Indian village that shares land border with Bangladesh. South of this village, along the International Border (IB), India and Bangladesh are separated by a narrow channel of the Ichamati river. Further south, the border cuts across deep forests of the Sunderbans where the Border Security Force (BSF) outposts are based out of floating vessels. FORCE’s journey with the BSF started at Hasnabad border outpost (BOP). It was a long journey along the water border, all the way into the Sunderbans area which exposed us to the reality on the ground. Certainly, the challenges are aplenty.

Floating Border Outpost Kamakhya

The transition from land-based to sea-based operations is quite evident at Hasnabad. It has basic infrastructure to train water wing troops. While the main training centre is located at Madhopur, Punjab, the BOP at Hasnabad has enough resources to carry out basic training as well as a few refreshment courses for the water wing. An artificial pond sits right in the middle of the BOP.

A group of wild geese hang out around the pond where the wooden boats meant for training are also docked. Just beside one wooden boat sit a group of jawans who have completed their morning training sessions. “They are the troops from Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) force,” points out a BSF officer, recognising the light coloured camouflage pants worn by the troops. Besides training of BSF troops, Hasnabad BOP plays host to the ITBP troops as well. After the short training, spanning a couple of weeks, the ITBP troops will move back to their original postings around Brahmaputra river in Arunachal Pradesh. Hasnabad BOP is also particularly significant as it is the start point for the BSF’s water wing in the eastern theatre.

Since the border region down south in the Sunderbans is completely riverine, the troops deployed there operate in association with its water wing, providing logistics for all sea-based operations. The basic training for that takes place here at Hasnabad.

At one end of the BOP, in a side channel of Ichamati river, a medium patrol vessel is anchored. “It has come for the usual repair work,” informs a BSF officer. Maintenance and repair work for the water wing assets also happen there. A few metres away from that, a BSF speed boat gets ready to make a long trip.

Hasnabad/Kalutala/Barun/Hindralgunj/Bankra: This correspondent was accompanied by an Assistant Commandant rank officer, Raj Singh, who graciously agreed to play the guide on this trip into the Sunderbans. We were accompanied by the cheerful driver Head Constable Malik and his assistant, and sub-Inspector Munir Ahmed. Also, a BSF soldier from Tripura, smartly dressed and holding an Insas Rifle, sat at the back of the speed boat, keeping a close watch on the waters as we took off.

“There is no island or a channel in the Sunderbans area that I am not aware of,” boasted Malik. He certainly was an experienced driver, especially while driving through the crowded regions of the river. Numerous small wooden boats - some transporting people from one end to another, some meant for fishing and some others for commercial use - operate in the waters here. And every time, the speed boat approached them, Malik shut the engines of the boat. “The ripples that the speed boat causes could sometimes topple the small wooden boats,” he explained. He raced again once he crossed the smaller boats. In no time, the speed boat reached the main channel.

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