India's Security Barrier

By Marcus Dysch
July 24, 2009

Last night's Channel Four News featured a lengthy report on a security barrier.

But, shock horror, it was not Israel's fence/wall in the West Bank, but rather the one at the centre of India's efforts to protect her border with Bangladesh and slow the threat from Islamist militants.

When complete, the barrier will consist of no less than 2,000 miles of barbed wire, manned by thousands of armed troops. The intention is that by next year the whole border will be sealed off.

After helpfully starting with an explanation that the Indian version was based on the Israeli one, the report moved on to interviewing Bangladeshi Muslims shot by Indian troops and the families of those killed in clashes along the border fence.

It all came as news to me. A fortnight ago I was visiting Israel and was shown sections of the security barrier. In some cases we saw villages split by it. It was fascinating. I had no idea, however, that a similar structure existed further East, and I largely suspect you didn't either.

And here comes my point. For six years or so we've regularly heard about the Israeli barrier. It's been everywhere. The BBC and Guardian websites each have hundreds of articles on it. Even Banksy allegedly turned up and left his mark.

But what of the Indian effort? Virtually nothing.

Are we now to suppose that the Western media, and of course the likes of Amnesty, Oxfam and War on Want, will fall over themselves to condemn the Barrier Security Force (as the Indian troops are known) and Indian government for their building and patrols? I don't think you need me to tell you the answer.

Perhaps a quick Google search will give us some clues as to the reporting and coverage of the two fences?

First let's try "Indian Security Barrier". What do we get? 383,000 results. Three of the first ten, mind you, are actually about the Israeli barrier. Seriously. The only mainstream British media story I could find solely about India's barrier is a 2005 article from The Times. It's obviously been around for quite a while then.

Wikipedia (not exactly a reliable source, I know) has about three paragraphs on it.

Now let's try "Israeli Security Barrier". Slightly higher, 485,000 results. Most of the first dozen or so, if you go and read the pages they link to, raise words such as "apartheid". Nice. The very first result is a Wikipedia page which I estimated to carry about 3,000 words and around a dozen maps, pictures and graphs.

I am not attempting to argue the rights and the wrongs of either barrier.

I am not pretending that the Israeli barrier is perfect or faultless. Of course it is not. It has changed many innocent Palestinian lives for the worse. But, at the same time, it has no doubt saved many innocent Israeli lives altogether.

The coverage of the two barriers, seemingly so similar in intent and style, does, however, say much about the challenges Israel faces abroad. Again and again the Jewish state is made a special case. Its defence often goes unheard. The attacks are unrelenting. The construction of the West Bank security barrier has, for most of this decade, been at the very top of the list of examples used to attack her.

The Indian barrier meanwhile seems to have barely warranted a mention in much of the quality British press or the BBC.

Only time will tell if this coverage changes. One rather imagines it will not.

Tackling this bias will be just one of the issues in the in-tray of Amir Ofek when he arrives to begin work as press attache at the Israeli Embassy in London later this summer.

We should wish him luck. He'll need it.


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