Rajesh Rai | Phuentsholing
Two Bhutanese truck drivers ferrying boulders to Bangladesh were brutally beaten by local residents at Fulbari, the Indian town that borders Banglabandha, Bangladesh on January 27.
The incident occurred between 2pm and 3pm at Fulbari, which is about 160km from Phuentsholing. They were beaten up for not being able to pay a donation for a local ritual.
One managed to escape but the other was badly manhandled by the mob. An Indian driving a Bhutanese truck in the same convoy was beaten up when he intervened. The two were admitted at a nearby hospital.
The Bhutanese driver who was manhandled, Jamyang Jurmey was brought home and admitted at the Phuentsholing hospital. He was discharged yesterday.
The 26-year-old said he was beaten up because he did not pay the amount the locals demanded. It happened while he was about to enter into Bangladesh.
“They asked Rs 50 per each truck at the parking,” he said, adding those who had money had paid and left.
“But those without money tried to negotiate for Rs 20. I didn’t have money. I just had Rs 300, which was saved to pay before crossing the border.”
After getting out of the parking area, Jamyang Jurmey had left for the border area to enter into Bangladesh. But three local men caught him and started manhandling. He was dragged, harassed and beaten by the locals along the road.
“People who were on the roadside, even women would just come and beat me,” Jamyang Jurmey said.
Shaken and traumatised, Jamyang said without the intervention of the Indian fellow driver, it would have been difficult for him to get out of the mob.
“They were planning to tie me up and continue beating,” he said. “When my friend intervened, he was also beaten up.”
However, the other Bhutanese driver was able to run away, Jamyang said. It is a shameful act because the drivers had done nothing wrong, he added.
Bhutanese truckers have a designated parking space at Fulbari. Each truck pays Rs 130 to park for 24 hours. Trucks are parked for several days before their turn to enter Bangladesh. Truckers pay up to Nu 3,000 to different parties on the way up to Fulbari, Jamyang Jurmey said.
Jamyang Jurmey’s brother-in-law, Pema Namgay, who also operates a mining and export boulders said Bhutanese people would help Indians facing problems in Bhutanese highways.
“Bhutan and India have a very good relation,” he said, explaining such problems across the border was unfortunate and unwanted.
“Government should do something to resolve this matter.”
Pema Namgay said Bhutanese drivers have been facing countless problems at Fulbari.
On September 23, 2019, an angry mob in Fulbari pelted stones to more than 35 Bhutanese trucks ferrying boulders to Bangladesh. Windshields and windows of the trucks were smashed and broken. Complaints were filed with the police in the locality but no one was arrested and no compensations were paid.
The Bhutan Exporters Association (BEA) general secretary, Tshering Yeshi said the ones who instigated the locals and manhandled the drivers on January 27 are from among the same people who had created problems in September last year.
“If they were arrested, this problem would never occur,” he said.
Tshering Yeshi said such problems were occurring on a daily basis in Fulbari. It is high time that the government should “strongly intervene” and sort it out.
The general secretary also said that the Fulbari locals were showing frustration because boulder export to Bangladesh from Bhutan was increasing due to better quality compared to their stones, while their export dropped. The frustration is being shown at the drivers, he added.
“BEA has been coordinating border coordination meetings frequently to maintain law and order but to no avail,” Tshering Yeshi said, explaining the enforcement agencies were weak at Fulbari.
A boulder exporter in Phuentsholing said that Fulbari locals felt that Bhutan has eaten into their boulder business due to excise duty exemption and better quality boulders.
“So, in order to disrupt our smooth businesses, they will stop our vehicles and check the load, despite having paid all the fees,” he said, adding that they will unload excess load or demand money.
“Today, it is Fulbari. It could reach Birpara, Dhupguri, Hasimara and Jaigaon tomorrow. Boulder is a dying business that will ultimately add to the fall of our economic activities and increase non-performing loans.”
BEA general secretary Tshering Yeshi said a first incident report has been immediately filed after the incident. BEA officials are visiting Fulbari for further investigation today.