India and Bangladesh unite for IYA2009 star party, replacing conflict with peace

20 August 2009

While many astronomers worldwide were focused on the total solar eclipse, a small group of amateur stargazers from India and Bangladesh used this as an opportunity to carry out an activity of peace. For the first time in the history of the two countries, whose relations are marred with cross-border firing, terrorism, kidnapping, and acts of violence, a special event was held, which had members of the armed forces of both sides of the border rubbing shoulders with amateur astronomers at the international border dividing the two countries.

The International Year of Astronomy 2009 has been quite a surprise in the region. A few years ago, an impact of a large iron meteorite in Bangladesh was originally assumed to be a bomb from India. A telescope would be mistaken for a bazooka.

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. To host a star party would have been a highly improbable event. But against all odds, one was held on Ground Zero between two different countries.

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 requested 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 BSF, highlighting the need to use astronomy to encourage peace and harmony. Mr Sarker apprised both of them the role of an international organisation called Astronomers Without Borders and their activities worldwide. He also explained about the Star Peace project of IYA2009 and also highlighted the events held between Indian and Pakistan earlier this year. The simple term that "boundaries vanish when we look skywards" helped convince both of them, and the Border Security Force formally gave permission to hold the event.

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.

It was mutually decided by both sides that the event would be held at border pillar number 433, about 20 km from Panchagarh, Bangladesh. The strength of team members for either side was restricted to 15 members each.

On the 21 July, 5:20PM, a team of 15 SWAN members under the leader ship of Mr Debasis Sarker headed for no man's land. No cameras, materialistic gifts, or weapons of any sort were allowed as per the international protocol.

A similar delegation headed by Mr FR Sarker in company of 15 members of the BAS also arrived. The routine protocol was slightly lowered as a mutual understanding between both security forces. Both the Teams carried with them their national flags and banners of their organisations which were hoisted. They greeted each other but could not control their emotions. Crying with joy, 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 Astronomers Without Borders. The security forces admitted that this was the first time that civilians from both countries had met at the border for peaceful means.

As sunset drew closer, the amateurs were asked by the security forces to leave the area as no movement is officially permitted after sunset.

Later, a brief press conference was held. This Star Peace event appeared in various newspapers and TV the next day.


Earlier link on the Star Peace Website

Link to story on the Bangladesh Astronomical Society Web Site

Link to story on Astronomers Without Borders

Link to AWB Gallery

Links to news story on various websites


Organisational Associates:

The International Year of Astronomy 2009 is endorsed by the United Nations and the International Council of Science.