Most of MASUM’s work is focused on the international border between India and Bangladesh. A majority of residents living near the border belong to communities that have faced socio-economic and political discrimination in the country on the basis of their religion, caste and gender. This discrimination is further exacerbated because the people are vulnerable to border politics. The Geneva Conventions of 1949 require the border fence to be constructed not more than 150 yards away from the actual border between two states. However, in India this requirement is often violated and the border fence is constructed several kilometers away from the International Border Pillar (IBP), cutting across villages. As a result, the houses and agricultural lands of many residents fall on the other side of the border fence due to which they face several threats to their civil and political liberties. Moreover, people living near the borders find it difficult to get access to social security schemes such as pensions, public distribution systems, health benefits and so on.
Arsenic poisoning also affects a number of villages in the border districts. We have conducted a survey in these areas by testing samples of drinking water for arsenic. In 2017, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on safe drinking water and sanitation, Mr. Leo Heller, visited West Bengal on MASUM’s invitation.
We have started mobilizing the residents of the border and organizing them into committees called Amra Simantabasi (we, the residents of the border). There are also District level committees in three districts, namely Murshidabad, North 24 Parganas and Cooch Behar to address the problems of residents and lobby with the administration regarding their demands. We lobby with various state authorities such as district magistrates, block development officers, and village panchayats for the rights of the residents of the border. We publish leaflets, manuals and posters on fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution of India and distribute them in villages to make people aware of their rights. We have conducted several fact findings and sent complaints to different HRIs, state and administrative bodies regarding the deprivation of basic rights of residents.
These complaints can be found here.