Bengal guv visits trouble-torn Sandeshkhali; Smriti Irani hits out at Mamata
The North 24 Parganas district administration clamped prohibitory orders at Sandeshkhali on Saturday under Section 144 of CrPC and suspended internet services after some videos from here went viral on social media
West Bengal governor C V Ananda Bose visited trouble-torn Sandeshkhali in Bengal’s North 24 Parganas district on Monday and assured local women that their complaints of torture and exploitation against some Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders would be looked into.
“The women narrated their plight. Goons go inside a house, grabs the child and assaults the women in front of her husband. These are the kind of things that have been happening here. This cannot be allowed in society. Ghastly crimes went on, unchecked by the government. Shame on the society,” the governor told the media after interacting with some homemakers who grabbed his feet and sought help.
“We cannot live here any longer,” one of the women could be heard wailing.
“I saw some things I had never seen. I heard some things I had never heard before. It is a complex issue. It has many dimensions. I will not jump to any conclusion about the state government. Let me get their views first. I will certainly do my best to see that honour and dignity of my sisters here are restored,” Bose said.
Hours before Bose reached Sandeshkhali, chief minister Mamata Banerjee said no troublemaker would be spared.
“Anybody can go there,” Banerjee told the media without naming the governor. “Those who indulged in violence and those against whom people have grievances have been arrested. All troublemakers will be arrested,” she said, adding, “The chairperson of the West Bengal Commission for Women visited Sandeshkhali in the morning and filed a report.”
“We took suo motu cognizance the moment the allegations surfaced. I received some complaints today. Nobody filed any complaint earlier,” the commission’s chairperson, Leena Gangopadhyay, told the media during her visit.
The administration clamped prohibitory orders at Sandeshkhali on Saturday under Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) and also suspended internet services after some videos went viral on social media.
HT reported on Sunday that in one of the videos - the veracity of which could not be verified - a woman could be heard saying that many homemakers were forced to stay at the homes of TMC workers and leaders for weeks or, even months.
Union minister for women and child development, Smriti Irani, said at a press conference in Delhi on Monday afternoon that she had watched a video from Sandeshkhali. “A woman told the journalist (in the video) in Bengali that TMC workers used to check which households had beautiful and young women. The husbands of these Hindu women were told that ‘you may be the husband, but you have no right.’ The women said they were taken away night after night and not released till the TMC men were satisfied.”
“These are the women of Sandeshkhali who are crying out for help and protection. Can we, as citizens, be mute spectators?” Irani added.
The streets of Sandeshkhali wore a deserted look because of a 12-hour bandh called by the Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPI(M), in protest against Sunday’s arrest of its former local legislator Nirapada Sardar on charges of inciting back-to-back violence since February 7.
“All allegations against me are fabricated. BJP and TMC have made local women say those things to gain mileage before the Lok Sabha polls,” Sardar told the media after his release from judicial custody. “I accept the party’s decision. The party did what it thought was right. I remain loyal to my party,” he said when asked about his expulsion.
Local women - most of whom belong to scheduled caste and scheduled tribe communities - have been holding demonstrations since last week against panchayat zilla parishad members Shiba Prasad Hazra and Uttam Sardar who are key TMC leaders in the region.
Both are known to be close aides of TMC’s Sandeshkhali unit president Sheikh Shahjahan who is wanted for the January 5 attack on Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials during a raid at his home in connection with the alleged ₹2,000 crore public distribution system (PDS) scam.
Police arrested Uttam Sardar on Saturday shortly after TMC expelled him for six years. He was charged with inciting violence and remanded in judicial custody by a district court. Bikash Sinha, a local BJP leader, was also arrested on Saturday on charges of inciting violence. Hazra, however, remained untraceable although local people demanded his arrest.
A district court on Monday turned down a petition for anticipatory bail that Shahjahan filed after skipping three summons the ED issued since the January 5 attack, in which three ED officers were injured.
Taking a swipe at the Bengal chief minister, Irani said: “Mamata Banerjee has to answer. Where is Sheikh Shahjahan?”
In the evening, the state police formed a 10-member team headed by a woman officer of DIG rank to look into the allegations of molestation and sexual assault.
“The team will visit various localities from Tuesday. The villagers must meet these officers and lodge their complaints. We have received one complaint of molestation so far. There is no communal angle to the incidents that have taken place till now,” an officer said on condition of anonymity.
Clashes between local people and TMC workers started on the night of February 7 when villagers raised allegations of nepotism of corruption against Hazra, Sardar and Shahjahan. Later, some of the women alleged before the media that TMC workers “misbehaved” with them after they were summoned to attend “party meetings” in the dead of the night.
Meanwhile, Six Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislators, including Suvendu Adhikari, the leader of the opposition at the assembly, were suspended from the ongoing budget session by Speaker Biman Banerjee for staging a noisy protest during official proceedings and entering the House in t-shirts with messages expressing solidarity with the Sandeshkhali women.
Hours later, Adhikari and his fellow legislators were stopped by police on the Basanti highway, around 60 km from Sandeshkhali, when they tried to visit the spot in a bus.
“Mamata Banerjee is scared. BJP will not rest till her government collapses and these women get justice,” Adhikari said.