Sandeshkhali probe points to human rights violation: NHRC | Latest News India - Hindustan Times

Sandeshkhali probe points to human rights violation: NHRC

ByNeeraj Chauhan, New Delhi
Apr 14, 2024 05:04 AM IST

An NHRC team led by Vijaya Bharathi Sayani visited Sandeshkhali on February 23-25 and interacted with area residents, including women, among others.

There were several human rights violations in the troubled Sandeshkhali area of West Bengal, including forced migration, denial of the democratic right to vote, sexual exploitation of women and land grabbing, the National Human Rights Commission has said in its spot enquiry report.

Central Bureau of Investigation officials take suspended Trinamool Congress strongman and Sandeshkhali incident accused Shahjahan Sheikh to Basirhat Court, in Kolkata (ANI)
Central Bureau of Investigation officials take suspended Trinamool Congress strongman and Sandeshkhali incident accused Shahjahan Sheikh to Basirhat Court, in Kolkata (ANI)

The spot report of team, approved by the NHRC was sent to West Bengal police and chief secretary and CBI on Friday. HT has reviewed a copy of the report.

Also Read: CBI creates dedicated e-mail id for land grab victims in Bengal's Sandeshkhali

“After interacting with the villagers, especially women in the area of Sandeshkhali, the NHRC team observed that the atmosphere of intimidation, and terror created due to the atrocities by the alleged accused persons rendered the victims silent and reluctant to seek justice,” said the report.

“The villagers/victims faced assault, threat, sexual exploitation, land grabbing, and forced unpaid labour, and under the given circumstances, they were compelled to seek livelihood outside the Sandeshkhali region or state,” the report added.

An investigation team of the NHRC led by Vijaya Bharathi Sayani visited Sandeshkhali on February 23-25 and interacted with area residents, including women, police officers and doctors, among others.

Also Read: Cop attacked inside police camp in Bengal's Sandeshkhali; TMC leaders detained

It found that whenever local residents went with a complaint to the police, they were allegedly advised to approach the accused people, including suspended Trinamool Congress party leader Sheikh Shahjahan, and seek a compromise.

Based on these interactions, the human rights body on Friday asked West Bengal chief secretary Bhagwati Prasad Gopalika and director general of police Rajeev Kumar to submit an action taken report in the matter within eight weeks while making several recommendations to restore law and order.

“The people who hold portfolios in the NHRC and other such bodies, are usually BJP leaders. They prepare reports favouring the BJP. This has been proved time and again. The same thing has happened this time. It is just a repetition,” said Santanu Sen, TMC MP.

Also Read: BJP candidate and Sandeshkhali survivor Rekha Patra moves NCW against TMC leader. What triggered complaint?

No bureaucrats in West Bengal government were willing to comment on the issue.

The riverine island of Sandeshkhali has been in the eye of the storm since January 5, when Enforcement Directorate officers arrived to search the home of Shahjahan, a close aide of former minister Jyoti Priya Mallick, who was arrested in October last year in connection with an alleged ration distribution scam. The ED team came under attack from an angry mob, leaving three officers injured.

On February 7, other violent protests began erupting in Sandeshkhali and nearby villages, with groups of residents, led mostly by women, alleging exploitation, land grabbing and sexual harassment at the hands of local TMC leaders, including Shahjahan, his brother Sirajuddin and associates Uttam Sardar and Shibaprasad Hazra. Other villages said Shahjahan and his associates also allegedly indulged in grabbing land.

Shahjahan, a former TMC zila parishad leader, was arrested by state police on the orders of the Calcutta high court on February 29 after 55 days on the run. Although state criminal investigation department took over the probe, Shahjahan was handed over to the Central Bureau of Investigation under the high court’s orders on March 6.

The Calcutta high court on April 10 asked CBI to investigate all allegations of Sandeshkhali residents since February.

”As per villagers, a significant number of men from the Sandeshkhali area have chosen to seek livelihood in distant places, leaving behind the women, children, and elderly, who continue to reside in the villages,” said the report.

“The decision to migrate is often driven by the pursuit of better economic opportunities and also staying in their home town could potentially expose them to working for the alleged accused or political parties without wages. This is a kind of forced migration,” the commission said.

The villagers in Sandeshkhali said that “they are denied democratic right to vote”, the report said.

“They alleged that during elections, they are prohibited from casting their votes, as supporters of miscreants allegedly cast vote on their behalf,” it added.

The report also highlighted alleged instances of land grabbing, disruption of natural habitats leading to environmental concerns, and safety of witnesses, among other concerns.

The commission said every victim told its team that “the police do not respond to their complaints against Hazra, Sardar and their associates”.

“Shockingly, they were advised to approach the alleged accused or their alleged patron Sheikh Shahjahan, and seek a compromise instead of receiving the support they sought from the police,” the report said. “The common people have lost faith in the local police.”

Between January 1, 2023, and February 25, 2024, three minor girls and 37 adult women were “untraced” in the area, according to data from Sandeshkhali police station that was shared with the NHRC team.

Local police, after the violence in February, registered 25 cases, out of which seven are related to sexual offences against Shahjahan, Sardar and Hazra, according to the report. Police have arrested 24 people so far in these cases.

The alleged offences committed in Sandeshkhali are among the top poll issues in the eastern state that sends 42 members to the Lok Sabha.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Union home minister Amit Shah have repeatedly referred to the allegations to attack the TMC, especially on the issue of women’s safety. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has said the state government took swift action against the perpetrators and accused the Bharatiya Janata Party of vendetta politics.

“The people have seen what has happened in Sandeshkhali. The high court ordered a CBI probe. This corroborates the NHRC report. It is immaterial what political parties say,” said BJP spokesman Samik Bhattacharya.

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