NHRC sends Sandeshkhali probe report to Bengal govt, seeks action-taken report | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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NHRC sends Sandeshkhali probe report to Bengal govt, seeks action-taken report

ByNeeraj Chauhan
Apr 13, 2024 04:37 PM IST

On Friday, NHRC sent the inquiry report to the state government and the state police, directing them to file their action-taken reports within 8 weeks

NEW DELHI: An inquiry by the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) into the Sandeshkhali violence in West Bengal has revealed multiple human rights concerns over the last few years including sexual exploitation, land grabbing, denial of the right to vote and “a kind of forced migration”.

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

On Friday, NHRC decided to send the inquiry report to the state government and the state police, directing them to file their action-taken reports on the 12 recommendations within eight weeks.

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The commission, which had taken suo motu cognisance of media reports on the violence in February, also decided to approach the Calcutta high court to intervene in the court proceedings “since NHRC was also inquiring into the complaints of violation of human rights of the victims and its spot enquiry report reveals several instances of atrocities inflicted upon the victims which clearly demonstrate, prima facie, there was violation of human rights due to negligence in prevention of such violation or abatement thereof by the public servant.”

Also Read: Sandeshkhali villagers get back their lands. But are they fit for farming?

The commission’s decision comes after the high court on Wednesday ordered the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to probe all allegations levelled by residents of Sandeshkhali since February, and said it will monitor the process.

NHRC has sent a copy of its report to the CBI as well.

The report also said when the residents complained to the police, they were told to approach the accused including the Trinamool Congress (TMC) strongman Sheikh Shahjahan, who was arrested by the state police on February 29 after being on the run for 55 days. and seek a compromise.

HT has reviewed the report.

The riverine island of Sandeshkhali in North 24 Parganas district has been in the eye of the storm since January 5, when Enforcement Directorate (ED) 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, leaving three officers injured.

But, on February 7, other violent protests began erupting in Sandeshkhali and other nearby villages, with groups of residents, led mostly by local women, alleging sexual harassment at the hands of local TMC leaders including Shahjahan, his brother Sirajuddin, and other associates Uttam Hazra and Shibu Sardar, who have since been arrested. Other villages said that Shahjahan and his associates also indulged in land-grab.

An NHRC investigation team led by its member, Vijaya Bharathi Sayani, visited Sandeshkhali from February 23 to 25.

In their report, the team observed that the atmosphere of intimidation, and terror created due to the atrocities had rendered the victims silent and reluctant to seek justice. “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,” said the NHRC spot enquiry report.

“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.”

“The decision to migrate is often driven by the pursuit of better economic opportunities and also staying in their hometown could potentially expose them to working for the alleged accused or political parties without wages. This is a kind of forced migration,” the report said, adding that this bleak situation painted a vivid picture of economic hardship and exploitation.

The villagers also alleged they were not allowed to cast their votes and “supporters of miscreants allegedly cast vote on their behalf”. The report also highlighted cases of land grabbing.

On the role of the police, the report said every victim told the team that “the police do not respond to their complaints against Hazra, Sardar and their associates”. “Shockingly, they (residents) 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 common people have lost faith in the local police,” it said.

The report said the women narrated a series of distressing events including instances of harassment, physical torture, and sexual assault. According to the police station’s data, three minor girls and 37 adult women were still “untraced” in the area between January 1, 2023 and February 25, 2024.

The state police told the team that 25 cases had been registered after the violence including seven sexual assault cases against Sheikh, Sardar and Hazra. The police have also arrested 24 persons so far.

The alleged offences committed in the island village of Sandeshkhali — around a dozen first information reports have been filed so far — are among the top poll issues in Bengal 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 question of women’s safety. Chief minister Mamata Banerjee has said the state government took swift action against the perpetrators and accused the BJP of vendetta politics.

Shahjahan, a former TMC zila parishad leader, was arrested by the state police on the orders of the high court on February 29 after 55 days on the run. Although state CID took over the investigation Shahjahan was handed over to CBI under court orders.

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