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Foreigner tag on widow at home

Badkulla, April 22: Shephali Saha cannot let her daughter or grandchildren into her house here in Nadia because she has been branded a Bangladeshi national by the local club.

Almost 80 per cent of the 60-year-old widow’s land has been taken away by Kishor Sangha, which has built a clubhouse there.

Shephali has been threatened with dire consequences if she does not vacate the remaining portion of the land — on which stands her small hut — in a few days.

According to documents, Shephali is an Indian citizen. She has been living on that plot, 75 km from Calcutta, for 42 years and works as a domestic help in the locality.

She had been working in the house of a rich farmer, Nagendra Bhowmik, since 1966 until he died in 1992, leaving no direct heir to his property.

After his death, Bhowmik’s relatives — residents of Calcutta — and Shephali appealed to the government for a share of his property.

“As I had been looking after Nagendrababu for a long time, he allowed me to live on his land. I used to stay in his house. In 1980, I built a hut in a corner of the land and started living there. After his death, I proved to the government that I was looking after the man from 1966 to 1992 and had been living on his land since 1966,” she said.

The government gave Shephali 5 cottahs there in 2000. Nagendrababu’s relatives got their shares and sold them.

The local panchayat, which earlier gave her residence and citizenship certificates, supported her claim. “We know that she has been living in Badkulla for the past 42 years. Some local youths are now trying to grab her property by dubbing her a Bangladeshi,” said Rekha Roy, its chief.

According to the Badkulla panchayat, Shephali has been paying her taxes to the village body and land departments regularly, but the club has almost taken away her right to her own land.

Three months ago, some 70 youths stormed into her premises, built the club room and fenced off around 4 cottahs.

As if this was not enough, the club members told Shephali, who lives alone, that no one can visit her without their permission.

“They abuse me. My daughter and grandchildren can’t come to my house. I meet them far from my house if I have to,” said Shephali, tears rolling down.

But the club members appeared unfazed. “She is a Bangladeshi. We need to keep a close watch on her. She has acquired the land illegally. We want her to return to Bangladesh,” said Ganesh Saha, its secretary.

The widow knocked the door of the administration after the charge was levelled. Ranaghat subdivisional officer Shew Kumar Ram ordered an inquiry in February.

The probe by the land department in March proved Shephali’s claims correct.

“The woman is living legally on the land given by the government. The club’s possession of her land is unlawful. Urgent action needs to be taken before the situation spins out of control,” said the inquiry report.

Nadia district magistrate Onkar Singh Meena said: “We have given them (club members) some time to vacate the land. If they don’t, strong action will be taken against them.”

That was about a week ago. Kishor Sangha remains where it was.

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