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NHRC team visits Sandeshkhali amid fresh protests

Source: PTI   -  Edited By: Utkarsh Mishra
February 23, 2024 23:36 IST
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A team of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Friday held on-spot inquiries in Sandeshkhali to ascertain facts about alleged sexual abuse by some Trinamool Congress leaders even as fresh agitation rocked the trouble-torn village, where locals torched the property of accused Trinamool leaders and held demonstrations against the delay in arresting the main accused, Shahjahan Sheikh.

IMAGE: West Bengal BJP president Sukanta Majumdar along with supporters stage a protest outside Sandeshkhali Police Station demanding the arrest of Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Shahjahan Sheikh, in Sandeshkhali on February 23, 2024. Photograph: ANI Photo

The political showdown also intensified over the Sandeshkhali issue after the Bengal police stopped women leaders of the Bharatiya Janata Party's Bengal unit from going to the trouble-torn region and, subsequently, detained them.

The BJP alleged that Sheikh was getting 'secular protection' and the TMC hitting back, accusing it of aggravating the situation by foiling every effort to restore peace and normalcy in Sandeshkhali.


Meanwhile, Keeping the probe pressure up, the ED conducted raids at the residences of businessmen allegedly associated with Trinamool leader Shahjahan Sheikh and also opposed his anticipatory bail plea made before a Kolkata court in connection with the agency's probe into an alleged ration distribution scam in West Bengal, claiming that he is a very influential person.

Also on Friday, the Enforcement Directorate issued its fourth summons to Sheikh in connection with his alleged involvement in the multi-crore ration scam asking him to appear before its officers on February 29, an officer said.

He has skipped all the previous three summons.

Carrying sticks and brooms, women came out in large numbers in the Bermajur area of Sandeshkhali, demanding the return of forcefully grabbed land by Sheikh and his followers and the immediate arrest of the fugitive TMC leader.

The newly-appointed ADG (South Bengal), Supratim Sarkar, rushed to the spot and told the agitating villagers that police had set up camps to listen to their complaints.

"The District Magistrate is present at the spot. Please register your complaints at those camps and we promise to look into them. Such agitations will only delay our investigations," Sarkar told villagers.

The prohibitive Section of 144 of Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) was imposed in at least two-gram panchayat areas of Sandeshkhali in the wake of the agitation, according to police officials.

Agitated villagers had, on Thursday, set ablaze a thatched structure adjacent to a fishery in the same area while venting their fury against Sheikh and his brother Sirajuddin.

The NHRC team, comprising panel member Vijaya Bharathi Sayani and five officials, visited some villages, including Patrapara and Natunpara in the trouble-torn Sandeshkhali, situated about 100 km from Kolkata. The team spoke to the villagers and noted their statements.

They also visited the Sandeshkhali police station and spoke to the officials there, a source said.

Several villagers at Sandeshkhali in West Bengal's North 24 Parganas district have accused Shajahan Sheikh and his supporters of alleged 'land-grab and sexual assault'.

The team reached Sandeshkhali via Dhamakhali ferry ghat in the morning, after crossing river Kalagachi by boat.

The NHRC is the fourth Central panel to visit the restive area after the National Commission for Women, the National Commission for Scheduled Castes and the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes.

Closer to Kolkata, BJP women leaders were stopped by the police from visiting the restive region, citing prohibitory orders and the ongoing board exams.

The team, led by Locket Chatterjee and Agnimitra Paul, both general secretaries of the party's state unit, was stopped at the Bhojerghat area in the North 24 Parganas mainland outside Sandeshkhali peripheries.

"We were denied entry to Sandeshkhali by the police citing prohibitory orders. The state government is trying to hide the truth," Paul claimed.

The leaders got into a verbal spat with the police following which they were whisked away in police vehicles.

Earlier, the Central probe agency conducted raids at four places including the house of local businessman Arun Sengupta at Birati in North 24 Parganas district and the residence of Arun Shome in the southern part of the city's Bijoygarh area.

According to the probe agency, these traders were also involved in export and import businesses with Shajahan and it was trying to find out the nature of their trading and how Shajahan was involved in it.

On January 5, a team of ED officers was assaulted by a mob when they tried to enter the residence of Shajahan at Sandeshkhali.

Three ED officers were injured in the attack. Shajahan has been absconding since then.

In New Delhi, BJP national spokesperson Sudhanshu Trivedi hit out at the Trinamool Congress government for not allowing his party's leaders to visit trouble-torn Sandeshkhali and not arresting Sheikh.

Trivedi told reporters that Sheikh was being probed in a corruption case by the ED and was also accused of a violent attack on the agency's officials. Such a 'multi-dimension criminalisation' of politics and protection of the accused is unprecedented in Indian politics, he claimed.

Trivedi told reporters that it was not only about the West Bengal government protecting him but there was a particular mindset that believes in 'secular protection' of some people irrespective of the crimes and atrocities they commit.

While 'secular parties' are keeping mum because they weigh the complaints of women against their vote-bank politics, even the self-proclaimed champions of women's rights have maintained silence, he said.

Attacking the BJP, senior TMC minister Chandrima Bhattacharya told reporters in Kolkata that the administration has full control over the situation and is diligently addressing every complaint and grievance of villagers.

"The administration is in charge, with BDO and police officers working tirelessly. Every complaint is thoroughly examined and promptly addressed. However, whenever there is a semblance of normalcy, BJP leaders such as Sukanta Majumdar and Locket Chatterjee rush in to exacerbate the situation.

"The BJP shows no concern for the women of Sandeshkhali; their only agenda seems to be to sow chaos for electoral gains," she said.

Bhattacharya and another senior minister, Shashi Panja, both strongly reacted when a reporter compared the situation in Sandeshkhali to that of Singur and Nandigram during the erstwhile Communist Party of India-Marxist regime in 2007-08.

"Those were popular uprisings against the misrule of the left, whereas the opposition is trying to foment chaos and disturbances in the name of protests in some parts of Sandeshkhali. There is no uprising. If there had been few cases of grievances of land grab and exploitation, those have already been addressed," Bhattacharya said.

"BJP is trying to incite people and violating laws," Panja alleged.

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Source: PTI  -  Edited By: Utkarsh Mishra© Copyright 2024 PTI. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of PTI content, including by framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent.
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