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Police promises action as fresh protests erupt in Sandeshkhali

Police promises action as fresh protests erupt in Sandeshkhali

New Delhi: Amid renewed protests in Sandeshkhali on Thursday, where locals set fire to property belonging to TMC leaders accused of tormenting villagers, West Bengal Police Chief Rajeev Kumar promised to take action against the perpetrators, while a visiting NCST team collected concerns of forced land seizures and torture from the region.

Earlier in the day, upon their arrival in the restive Sandeshkhali area, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) team led by acting vice-chairperson Ananta Nayak engaged with locals and documented over 23 complaints of forced land grabbing and torture.

Nayak affirmed that these grievances would be included in their report to the President.

Meanwhile, West Bengal BJP president Sukanta Majumdar, who was permitted by police to visit the troubled area for the first time, staged a brief sit-in outside Sandeshkhali police station.

His demand for the arrest of fugitive TMC leader Shahjahan Sheikh led to his forcible removal by law enforcement officers from the unrest zone via a boat.

The day witnessed fresh protests in parts of Sandeshkhali, fueled by allegations against local TMC leaders for sexual abuse and forcible land grabbing.

Locals, armed with sticks, vented their anger by setting ablaze a thatched structure near a pond, purportedly belonging to Shahjahan's brother Siraj, who is also a local TMC activist.

A protester said, "Siraj and his brother Shahjahan have usurped our land. They subjected us to molestation. We demand justice and the return of our land."

These demonstrations followed DGP Kumar's assurance earlier in the day that the guilty would not be spared, accompanied by police efforts to engage with the community and address their concerns.

To address public dissatisfaction regarding perceived police inaction against the TMC leader responsible for instilling fear in the area, Kumar, stationed in Sandeshkhali since yesterday afternoon, pledged that police will attentively address complaints from every individual and strict action against those proven guilty.

"I came here to talk to my officers. It's our responsibility to see the well-being of the people. We will listen to the complaints of every individual.

If there is any incident regarding land grabbing or anything else, we will take strict action against those found guilty.

If people are found involved in torturing, we will take appropriate action against them," Kumar told reporters at Dhamakhali this morning.

In the aftermath of DGP Rajeev Kumar's visit, a significant police presence descended on the area.

Officers urged locals to submit grievances and relevant documentation, promising prompt action and land restoration.

"Please bring forth your complaints; we will take immediate action. If you possess any relevant documents, present them to us. Rest assured, your land will be restored," a police officer was heard telling the residents.

However, these efforts failed to assuage public anger, with locals questioning the administration's prolonged inaction.

TMC leaders faced the ire of the community during their visit, prompting acknowledgement of past lapses and assurances of redressal.

In an attempt to mollify the gathering storm, the TMC representatives acknowledged past lapses while asserting the party's commitment to rectifying them.

"Yes, mistakes have been made. However, the people of Sandeshkhali repose their complete trust in Mamata Banerjee. All grievances will be duly addressed," affirmed the TMC leader and Sandeshkhali MLA Sukumar Mahto, seeking to assuage the mounting discontent.

Meanwhile, the NCST delegation, during their interactions with locals, received over 23 complaints of land grabbing and torture, which they pledged to include in their report.

"The locals have mentioned the name of a political leader. We will include it in our report. We have received more than 23 complaints so far. We will compare this (their findings) with the ground report and then submit it to the President," Nayak said.

The visit by the NCST team follows previous delegations' recommendations, including the National Commission for Women and the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, who advocated for the President's Rule in the state amidst ongoing violence and human rights violations.

The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on Wednesday issued a notice to the state government and police chief regarding ongoing violence and human rights violations in the area.

Later in the evening, Majumdar, eight days after sustaining injuries during a protest in nearby Taki, gained entry into the restive region, his first since the protests broke out.

But after meeting local leaders, the Balurghat BJP MP went straight to Sandeshkhali police station and started a sit-in outside it.

Majumdar said he wanted to meet local police officials but was denied permission, following which he decided to start an indefinite sit-in.

The police, after failing to persuade him to withdraw the agitation, forcibly removed him from the spot and packed him off from the restive area on a boat.

"I was arrested but was later released on a personal bond," Majumdar said.

In New Delhi, the BJP released a documentary on social media platforms, highlighting alleged land grab and sexual exploitation in Sandeshkhali, condemning the Trinamool Congress government's alleged inaction.

The BJP said on X about the over 20-minute long video, "A truth that'll shock us. A truth that'll pain us. A truth that'll shake our conscience. The truth of #Sandeshkhali, that Mamata Banerjee is trying to hide."

In response, the TMC accused the BJP of attempting to communalise the issue, emphasising the need for documentaries on crimes against women in BJP-ruled states.

"They should first release documentaries on crimes against women in the BJP-ruled states," TMC leader Kunal Ghosh said.

The unrest in Sandeshkhali stems from accusations against TMC leader Shahjahan Sheikh and his supporters of land grabbing and sexual assault, with Shahjahan evading authorities since a mob attack on Enforcement Directorate officials on January 5.

With PTI inputs

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