‘Horrific’: Adhikari on West Bengal’s Sandeshkhali situation | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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‘Horrific’: Adhikari on West Bengal’s Sandeshkhali situation

Feb 21, 2024 07:44 AM IST

Sandeshkhali has been on the boil for weeks over allegations of sexual atrocities on women and land grabbing by local Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders

Kolkata: Leader of opposition in West Bengal assembly Suvendu Adhikari on Tuesday described as “horrific” and “emblematic of anarchy” the situation in Sandeshkhali — which has been on the boil for weeks over allegations of sexual atrocities on women and land grabbing by local Trinamool Congress (TMC) leaders — after visiting the trouble-torn area following the intervention of the Calcutta high court.

Leader of Opposition in West Bengal Legislative Assembly and BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari being welcomed by locals of Sandeshkhali in North 24 Parganas on Tuesday. (ANI)
Leader of Opposition in West Bengal Legislative Assembly and BJP leader Suvendu Adhikari being welcomed by locals of Sandeshkhali in North 24 Parganas on Tuesday. (ANI)

“The experiences narrated by the locals are spine-chilling. Their land has been usurped, and women exploited... Everything happened with the help of the police and the administration,” Adhikari, who was accompanied by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislator Shankar Ghosh, alleged after meeting villagers in Sandeshkhali in North 24 Parganas district. “The situation is horrific and is a clear example of anarchy prevailing in the area.”

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Both BJP leaders were welcomed by locals, including women, after they reached Sandeshkhali by crossing the Kalindi river on a boat from Dhamakhali. In the morning, Adhikari and other BJP leaders and workers were stopped at Dhamakhali by the police, citing the prohibitory orders clamped in Sandeshkhali and the state government moving a division bench of the high court against a single bench order on Monday allowing the BJP leader to visit the violence-hit area.

However, the division bench of the high court, led by chief justice TS Sivagnanam, refused to interfere with the single bench order that granted permission to Adhikari to visit the restive area. It also expressed surprise that TMC leader Shahjahan Sheikh, the main accused and “core” of the Sandeshkhali issue, has not been arrested by the police so far.

“It is rather surprising that the person who is said to be the core for the problem being precipitated cannot be apprehended still and is on the run, defying the law,” the bench, also comprising justice Hiranmay Bhattacharyya, said.

Sandeshkhali, comprising 16 village panchayats in North 24 Parganas, has been witnessing tensions since January 5, when an Enforcement Directorate team that went to raid Shahjahan’s house in a money-laundering case was attacked by a mob. Even as Shahjahan has evaded arrest, since February 7, villagers led by local women have held violent protests against alleged sexual assault and exploitation by local TMC leaders.

So far, 18 people, including local TMC leaders Shibaprasad Hazra and Uttam Sardar, both close aides of Shahjahan, have been arrested in connection with cases registered over complaints of sexual assault, land grabbing, attempt to murder and inciting violence in Sandeshkhali.

Noting that there is material to show that Shahjahan has done damage to the public, instead of doing good as an elected zilla parishad representative, the division bench said if the TMC leader continues to be on the run, then law and order problems will obviously arise as he has his supporters.

The bench said in the suo motu matter, Shahjahan could be asked to appear before this court.

“If one person can hold the entire population to ransom, then that person should not be encouraged by the ruling dispensation,” the bench observed.

It noted that the single bench of Justice Apurba Sinha Roy had on February 12 taken suo motu (on its own) cognisance of allegations of sexual assault at gunpoint and forcible taking away of tribal land.

“Establishment of redressal mechanisms in itself prima facie shows that land grabbing was committed in the area. The allegation that the lands owned by the tribal villagers have been forcibly taken away in violation of the legal formalities stands prima facie established,” the division bench said.

Advocate General Kishore Dutta informed the court that members of the SC/ST commission, women’s commission and Governor CV Ananda Bose were not stopped from visiting the trouble-torn areas. It was when political leaders go there, the situation is precipitated.

Meanwhile, police clamped fresh prohibitory orders under Section 144 of CrPC banning assembly of five or more people in 15 pockets in Sandeshkhali-II block on Tuesday, which was brought down to 12 pockets during the day.

Row over ‘Khalistani’ jibe at cop

Earlier in the day, a Sikh Indian Police Service (IPS) officer, who was deputed at Dhamakhali to prevent Adhikari from visiting Sandeshkhali, got agitated after a group of BJP workers allegedly hurled the “Khalistani” jibe at him. A video of the purported incident went viral on social media.

“Just because I am wearing a turban, you people are calling me a Khalistani? Is this what you have learnt? If a police officer wears a turban and performs his duty honestly, he becomes a Khalistani for you? Shame on you,” IPS officer Jaspreet Singh, the special superintendent of intelligence branch, was heard saying to the BJP supporters.

“I am just doing my job. Did I say anything about your religion, why are you speaking about my religion?” Singh added.

Chief minister Mamata Banerjee shared the video clip on X and attack the BJP, saying its “divisive politics has shamelessly overstepped constitutional boundaries”.

“…As per BJP every person wearing a TURBAN is a KHALISTANI. I VEHEMENTLY CONDEMN this audacious attempt to undermine the reputation of our SIKH BROTHERS & SISTERS, revered for their SACRIFICES and UNWAVERING DETERMINATION to our nation,” the TMC chief posted on X.

The BJP, however, denied the charge and accused the police officer of not performing his duty as per the Constitution.

BJP legislator Agnimitra Paul, accompanying Adhikari, told reporters: “No one has abused him or used the word Khalistani. He is trying to make an issue. The police officer was not performing his duty as per the Constitution.”

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