In the wake of disturbing reports of rape of the women at Sandeshkhali village of North 24 Parganas district, West Bengal, villagers seek justice for the horror inflicted on the victim allegedly by TMC leader Shahjahan Sheikh.
The incident came to light after an attack on ED officials was reported on January 5. The officials had come to raid the Trinamool Congress leader Shahjahan Sheikh’s premises as part of probe into an alleged ration scam. Sheikh remains absconding.
Meanwhile, a video appeared on social media where a woman accuses the TMC leader of rape. “The party (Trinamool) men would come to houses where young girls lived. Then they took the women to the party office… Nights after night, they would be kept there till they (leaders) were satisfied,” alleged the woman.
The veracity of the video could not be verified.
Reports of sexual exploitation and land grab have come from Sandeshkhali ever since some women came out in open protest against the ruling TMC government. They say Sheikh is the prime accused.
Sandeshkhali women gherao police station
On February 7, local women staged a protest outside the Sandeshkhali police station demanding action against Sheikh and his accomplices. Angry villagers set nearby houses on fire. Fifteen people were arrested, police said.
“Villagers have finally found the guts to speak up against the local leaders who had been terrorising them under the patronage of Shahjahan Sheikh. In Sandeshkhali, two other leaders, Sardar and Hazra, have a final say in everything. They grabbed land from villagers, did not pay people despite forcing them into manual labour and even beat them up when they asked for their wages,” a local woman was quoted by the Indian Express.
“Sheikh, Sardar and Hazra often used to ask the women to attend party meetings at the drop of a hat and even at night. Many women were asked to stay till 2 am. They had no other option but to agree as the police did not take any action against the TMC leaders,” she alleged.
No internet, Section 144 imposed
On February 10, internet services were shut down and Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPc) was imposed in the village in North 24 Parganas district.
However, the reports of alleged exploitation in Sandeshkhali had already spread like wildfire across West Bengal with students and locals in the capital city protesting against the state government’s inability to arrest Sheikh and stop the rapes.
Suvendu, BJP MLAs stopped
Senior BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari and several other MLAs of the party were stopped from visiting the unrest-hit Sandeshkhali area on Monday afternoon, with the police citing prohibitory orders under Section 144 of CrPC clamped in the area.
Earlier in the day, six BJP legislators including Leader of Opposition Suvendu Adhikari were suspended from the West Bengal Assembly for staging protests in the House over unrest in Sandeshkhali in North 24 Parganas district.
Shocked and shattered: Governor
On Monday, Governor CV Ananda Bose cut short his Kerala trip and visited the area in North 24 Parganas to assess and review the law and order situation there.
He described the Sandeshkhali situation as “ghastly” that left him “shocked and shattered”. He assured the women, who tied rakhis on his wrist, of full support to get justice.
“What I saw was ghastly, shocking, shattering to my senses. I saw something which I should never have seen, I heard many things which I should never have heard. I cannot believe this could happen in Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore’s land,” Bose told reporters after taking stock of the situation there.
The governor said he would “fight it out under the (provisions in the) Constitution and as per the laws of the land.”
Bose has already sought a comprehensive report on the Sandeshkhali situation from the state government.
NCW questions Bengal government
On February 11, the National Commission for Women (NCW) sent a letter to the West Bengal government, seeking a report over the allegations in Sandeshkhali within 48 hours.
Meanwhile, a West Bengal Women’s Commission team visited “troubled spots” in Sandeshkhali and spoke to women who have alleged sexual harassment by absconding TMC leader Shajahan Sheikh and his supporters.
“I have personally spoken to them and taken note of the complaints. Now, we will be cross-checking their allegations. I have asked the police to submit a report on this,” Commission chairperson Leena Gangopadhyay said.
Those behind the violence are arrested: CM
Meanwhile, West Bengal CM Mamata Banerjee on Monday, February 12, broke her silence on Sandeshkhali violence and said those responsible have been put behind bars.
Banerjee’s remark came on a day when Governor CV Ananda Bose visited Sandeshkhali village.
“Anyone can go to Sandeshkhali. We have no issues with that. We have already sent the state women’s commission team there. They returned and submitted a report. Those who have instigated violence have been arrested. The situation is being monitored closely and necessary steps are being taken,” she said while speaking to reporters at Dumurjala stadium in Howrah district.
Situation ‘peaceful’, claims police
Meanwhile, police said that the situation in Sandeshkhali remained “peaceful” and nobody would be allowed to disrupt the law and order there.
“The entire area is peaceful. Now, no untoward incident has been reported there. We will not allow anybody to disrupt the law and order situation there and will take strict action against those who violate the law,” a senior police officer said.
(With PTI inputs)