Event July 21, 2009
On the evening of July 21, amateur astronomers from two neighboring countries, India and Bangladesh held their first joint star party on the Ground Zero between two countries which share over 4000 km of closed high security, heavily fenced, strictly guarded border.
Report by Manoj Pai
Both teams together, Photo by Debasis Sarkar
While many of the amateur astronomers world wide, as well as those around the Asia were focused on the Total Solar Eclipse activity, a small group of amateur astronomers carried out a small activity, which had a tremendous impact worldwide. For the first time in the history of two countries, whose relations were marred with cross border firing and acts of violence, actually had members of the armed forces of both sides of the border, rubbing shoulders with amateur astronomers at the very border dividing the two countries. Both these countries share over 4000 km of closed high security, heavily fenced, strictly guarded border. The security forces on either side of the border are in a constant state of struggle with fights in form of ‘Border Disputes.’ This area is also prone to cross border smuggling, act of terrorism, trade zone for transfer of counterfeit currencies, drugs etc. The air has a permanent smell of smoke and gun powder.
The International Year of Astronomy 2009 has sprung up several such surprises. Some of them included star parties between two different countries at the same venue for the first time. But this was an event which made major difference. An actual star party was held on the Ground Zero between two different countries, which was also attended by the security forces of each country.
On 21st July 2009, a few hours before sunset amateur astronomers from two different countries India and Bangladesh had a star party at the border which is heavily guarded by the Border Security Force (BSF) in Indian side and Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) in the Bangladesh.
Debasis with M A Sharif, Photo by Debasis Sarkar
As per Indo-Bangla border treaty, no one can have any form of activity, which appears as a war potential within 150 yard of the border ‘zero line.’ The demarcation between the two countries is visible through numbered pillars. The Indian side has multi layered, heavily built, flood lit border fence around 150 yard off from the zero line. No one is allowed to cross the fence between sunrise and sunset. Even during the day time, one needs to cross multilayer permission procedure to cross the border.
To host a star party would have been a highly improbable event.
In the first week of July, Mr Debasis Sarkar the President of the Sky Watchers Association of North Bengal (SWAN), affiliated with Confederation of Indian Amateur Astronomers, India equested for an appointment with Border Security Force of the North Bangla Frontier. He had a long meeting with the Inspector General Mr. Nand Kishore, and also the Director General of SF, highlighting the need on use of astronomy to harbor peace and harmony. Mr Sarker apprised both of them the role of Astronomers without Borders and their activities world wide. He also told them about the Star Peace Project of IYA2009 and also highlighted the Star Peace events held between India and Pakistan earlier this year. The simple term that “Boundaries vanish when we look skywards” helped convenience both of them and the Border Security Force formally gave them the permission to hold the event with a few conditions.
Mr FR Sarker of the Bangladesh Astronomical Society had a similar discussion with the Bangladesh Rifles, who, when informed that BSF, India had formally agreed to hold such an event on the border, found no reason to deny.
The Bangladesh Party accompanied by BDR Jawans, Photo by Debasis Sarkar
It was mutually decided by both sides that the event would be held at Border pillar number 433, located at Latitude 26°29'10.11"N and Longitude 88°22'16.99"E. This place is about 20 km from Panchagarh, Bangladesh. The strength of team members for either side was restricted to 15 members each.
On the 21st July, 5:20PM, a team of 15 SWAN members under the leader ship of Mr Debasis Sarker headed for the “NO MANS LAND”. No camera, materialistic gifts or weapons of any short were allowed as per the international protocol. The sole exception was the flag pole to carry the National Flag and a few flex banners. Members of the Fourth Estate – like the Times of India, Reuters, Telegraph formed a part of the delegation.
A similar delegation headed by Mr FR Sarker in company of 15 members of the BAS also arrived at the Ground Zero. The security on either side of the border treated this event as an official Flag meeting as per UN Protocol and then allowed the astronomers and citizens from either side to greet each other. The routine protocol was slightly lowered as a mutual understanding between either security forces. Both the Teams carried with them their National Flags and Banners of their Organizations which were hoisted. They greeted each other but could not control their emotions. Crying with job, they started hugging each other ignoring the political demarcation line between the two countries. The security forces present had no desire to stop the emotional avalanche.
The first speech was delivered by Debasis Sarkar, the General Secretary of Sky Watcher’s Association of North Bengal. “Sun is one, we are looking at the Sun around the world to observe Solar Eclipse, we are all same, we do not believe in border between India and Bangladesh.” He concluded his talk by asking, “Can any border keep love, greetings, faith between two friends separated into two halves?”
Mr F. R. Sarker, the General Secretary, Bangladesh Astronomical Society continued in the same vein. “When we look at the Earth from the Space, we see Earth as one entity without any border. We human beings are the same species all over the Earth, we are one, and we do not believe any border on planet Earth”
Both of them went on to highlight the objective of AWB and the object of the event being held at the border. They also highlighted the role of astronomy in peace. Either side then invited representatives of BSF and BDR to also participate in the event. Both security forces admitted that this was for the first time that civilians from both countries had met at the border for peaceful means.
Me, Debasis Sarkar hugging Mr. F R Sarkar, Photo by Debasis Sarkar
To commemorate the event both sides had decided to exchange T-Shirts in the Olympic style. The BAS had brought specially printed ones. While SWAN had brought specially hand woven silken scarf called ‘Khada’ a symbol of honor in foothills culture. This is also a Traditional Tibetan custom on honor. Unfortunately no exchanges of gifts were allowed. After a brief photo session, followed by a press conference was held at the venue.
As the time for sunset drew closer, the amateurs were asked by the security forces to leave the area as no movement was officially permitted after sunset.
After arrival into the mainland of each country, either amateur group decided to give the gifts, which they had brought for their counter parts, to the Security forces. In addition to this gift, the SWAN also gave them AWB Logo, a Picture of Mt. Kanchendjungha.
This event appeared in various newspapers and TV the next day.
Sky Watchers association of North Bengal,
F R Sarkar
Bangladesh Astronomical Society,
Phone Number +8801711521706
Link to Story on the Bangladesh Astronomical Society Web Site
Link to news story in various websites
Link on StarPeace website: