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regular-article-logo Thursday, 18 April 2024

Sandeshkhali: Policemen struggle to contain rising anger amid fresh protests and road blockades

The epicentre of trouble was stretched from Bermajur to Jhupkhali across the river Kalindi, facing Sandeshkhali block development officer’s office

Arnab Ganguly Calcutta Published 23.02.24, 06:32 PM
South 24 Parganas: Police detain BJP MP Locket Chatterjee and other BJP Mahila Morcha members on their way to Sandeshkhali, at Bhojerhat in South 24 Parganas district, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024

South 24 Parganas: Police detain BJP MP Locket Chatterjee and other BJP Mahila Morcha members on their way to Sandeshkhali, at Bhojerhat in South 24 Parganas district, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024 PTI

The list of accused in Sandeshkhali is getting longer as local residents fuming at the delay over the arrest of fugitive Trinamul leader Sheikh Shahjahan are looking for the small fry who were operating in the area under his protection.

After gunning for Shahjahan and his two aides Shibprasad Hazra and Uttam Sardar, local residents held Shahjahan’s brother Sirajuddin and the state police also responsible for the incidents at Sandeshkhali, which has been on the boil for two weeks now.

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The epicentre of trouble stretched from Bermajur to Jhupkhali across the river Kalindi, facing the Sandeshkhali block development officer’s office.

On Friday morning, the house of Ajit Maity, a Trinamul leader and aide to Sirajuddin, was attacked by irate locals sparking a fresh round of repression from law enforcing authorities in Bermajir. By afternoon at Jhupkhali, villagers piled up tyres, tree branches and twigs on the middle of the road and started a bonfire. In other parts of the block roads were blocked by uprooted trees and lampposts.

Villagers claimed men and students were picked up after the attack on Maity’s house, following which the administration imposed prohibitory orders under Section 144 of CrPC the in Bermajur gram panchayat I and II and other areas of Sandeshkhali, like Situlia Bazar, Hatgachhia, Trimoni Bazar, Khulna Ghat and Haldarpara in Jelliakhali.

“Whenever we went to the police with any complaint, we would be told to go to the brothers, Shahjahan and Siraj,” complained a villager.

Shahjahan, the Trinamul’s local unit president and North 24-Parganas zilla parishad functionary, has not been seen in the area since January 5 when a team from Enforcement Directorate went looking for him at Sandeshkhali were chased away by his henchmen.

Siraj, a homoeopath practitioner, was last seen on Thursday escaping on a bike after he and his associates tried to set ablaze the house of a villager in Kathpole area. It was alleged that the villager, a women, had protested against the forceful removal of soil from her farmland allegedly to turn it into a fishery. Shahjahan and his associates have been accused of illegally turning over 700 bigha farmland into ponds for pisciculture in the area.

When the woman and her physically challenged husband tried to resist their house was set on fire. In the changed atmosphere at Sandeshkhali, women from the neighbourhood, chased away the goons and set ablaze two guardrooms set up by Siraj’s men.

The embers from Thursday continued to burn on Friday when villagers at Bermajur attacked the home of one Ajit Maity, an aide of Siraj.“My family and I were attacked at our home because I am a Trinamul worker and associate of Siraj sahib,” Maity said.

Acting director general of police Rajeev Kumar, who had stayed overnight on Wednesday in Sandeshkhali, returned to the trouble spot.“Nobody should take the law into their hands or we will take strong action,” Kumar was caught on camera telling the villagers.

“Yes mistakes have been made. Our priority is to establish rule of the law. It does not mean that if I have suffered injustice, I will make someone else suffer,” Kumar said later.

By 4.30pm, the police started making announcements reminding local residents of the Section 144 imposed in the area. Fifteen minutes later, cops doused the flames and removed road blockades at Jhupkhali.

Section of the villagers alleged that the police had arrested five persons, including a higher secondary examinee.

Two separate teams of the BJP’s women’s wing, led by MP Locket Chatterjee and the state women’s wing head Falguni Patra, were stopped from entering Sandeshkhali on Friday.

“The cops can’t find Sheikh Shahjahan. They have barricaded the roads and not allowing us to enter,” Patra said after being stopped at Dhamakhali. “Students have been picked up from their homes and taken to police lock-up to prevent parents from speaking against Shahjahan and his men.”

Hooghly MP Locket Chatterjee was stopped at Bhojerhat, about 52 km away, and driven to Lalbazar.

A team from the National Human Rights Commission also visited Sandeshkhali on Friday after taking suo motu cognisance of print and electronic media reports of the events at Sandeshkhali, including the allegations of land-grab and sexual assault against Shahjahan and his men.

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