Updated February 29th, 2024 at 10:17 IST

Explained: A to Z of Sandeshkhali Uprising

The situation in Sandeshkhali started on Jan 5 when ED officials attempted to raid local TMC strongman Sheikh Shahjahan's house. He has now been arrested.

Reported by: Digital Desk
Sheikh Shahjahan arrested in Sandeshkhali case | Image:Republic
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Kolkata: Sandeshkhali, a village in West Bengal's North 24 Paraganas distrcit, has been at the centre of a major political controvery over the past month, witnessing large-scale protests against a local Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader in connection with allegations of sexual harassment, exploitation and land-grabbing. In the latest update in the case, Sheikh Shahjahan has been reportedly arrested by the West Bengal Police on February 28 after more than 50 days of being on the run. The TMC government is now taking credit for the arrest. 

What led to the Sandeshkhali situation? 

The current crisis in Sandeshkhali started on the morning of January 5 when a team from the Enforcement Directorate (ED) attempted to raid the residence of local TMC strongman Shahjahan Sheikh in relation with an ongoing investigation of a ration distribution scam.

They were impeded in their efforts by Shahjahan's men who not only prevented the officers from entering the house but also assaulted them. Shahjahan has remained at large since though reports quoting his close associates say that he remains in control of the area.   

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It was after the ED raid and the subsequent pushback by Shahjahan's associates that women in the area came out in large numbers and made various allegations against the local leader and his men. 

What are the allegations?

"Party (TMC) men would survey every home and if there was any beautiful woman, primarily a young wife or a girl, they would take them to the party office. They will keep that woman there night after night till they are satisfied," one of the several local women, who kept her face covered to hide her identity fearing attack by Shajahan and his associates, alleged.

The women said that the absence of Shajahan has given them the courage to speak about the torture they have been undergoing for several years.

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They not only accused Shajahan but also alleged that his close aides and other TMC leaders Uttam Sardar and Shibaprasad Hazra were involved in the abuse.

"One might be the husband, but he will not have his rights on her. One would have to let go of his wife. We are unable to live here. There is always a fear of being tortured or sexual molestation. We want safety. Most of our men have left the village and are working in other states," she alleged.

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Protests and political response

When the protests started, local women took to the streets with bamboo sticks and brooms, eventually surrounding local police stations as they reiterated demands for the immediate arrest of Shahjahan and Shibaprasad Hazra. 

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The situation escalated last Friday when the protestors burnt down three poultry farms owned by Hazra, which they claimed had been built on a piece of land forcibly grabbed from local villagers.

This led the opposition parties in Bengal to escalate their demands to arrest Shajahan and his men immediately.

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The BJP, CP(IM), and the Congress alleged that the ruling TMC administration has been "giving protection" to Shajahan and his men while some of the TMC leaders claimed that Shajahan was wrongfully framed by the opposition parties who have joined hands keeping in mind the ensuing Lok Sabha elections.

The protests of the women forced Bengal Governor CV Ananda Bose earlier this week to cut short his Kerala trip to review the situation in Sandeshkhali.

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After talking to the women there, Bose described it as "ghastly, shocking, shattering" "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... This is a shame for a civil society," Bose said after his visit to Sandeshkhali.

Bose has also submitted a report to the Ministry of Home Affairs, blaming the law enforcers for working hand in glove with "rowdy elements" in Sandeshkhali.

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In his report, Bose also mentioned that the local people want the Constitution of a Special Task Force or Special Investigation Team to probe into their allegations.

Reacting to these developments, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said those who were responsible have been put behind bars. The situation was being monitored closely and necessary steps were being taken, she had said.

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Banerjee's statement came on the day when Bose went to Sandeshkhali and reviewed the law and order situation there.

Police action and commission visits 

Police arrested former CPI(M) MLA from Sandeshkhali, Nirapada Sardar, and a local BJP leader Vikas Singh over the allegations. Barishat Police, on Monday, said that they have received only four complaints from the people of violence-hit Sandeshkhali but none of them mentioned any incident of rape or sexual harassment.

The police had imposed prohibitory orders in Sandeshkhali and on Tuesday, opposition leader Suvendu Adhikari and other BJP leaders were stopped in Science City when they tried to go to Sandeshkhali.

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On Wednesday, BJP's West Bengal President Sukanta Majumdar was injured as party workers clashed with the police after they were stopped from entering Sandeshkhali.

Majumdar is undergoing treatment at a city-based hospital.  A team of the state Women's Commission visited Sandeshkhali on Monday, spoke to the local women, and submitted a report to the Chief Minister's Office (CMO).

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The state administration has constituted a 10-member team under senior IPS officers to probe into the incidents of Sandeshkhali.

Representatives of the National Women’s Commission and National Commission for Scheduled Castes also tried going to Sandeshkhali but faced hindrances from the police who cited the prohibitory orders, stating that their visits might cause a law and order problem in the area.

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A National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) delegation visited the trouble-torn village on Thursday.

Led by the panel's Chairman Arun Halder, the team spoke to residents of the area, which is predominantly inhabited by people belonging to SC and other backward communities.

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Meanwhile, the police have set up barricades on approach roads to Sandeshkhali police to prevent political personalities from visiting the place.

Calcutta High Court reacts

Earlier this week, the Calcutta High Court revoked the imposition of Section 144 in trouble-torn Sandeshkhali saying that the state administration usually identifies disturbed areas and imposes prohibitory orders in specific zones.

It also said the state should deploy more security forces and there should be close monitoring through drones and CCTV cameras.

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Another Calcutta High Court Judge Justice Apurba Sinha Ray on Tuesday took suo motu cognisance of the allegations of the local women being sexually harassed and tribal land forcibly taken away and instructed the state to file a report within a week. 

With inputs from PTI. 

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Published February 15th, 2024 at 16:49 IST