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regular-article-logo Saturday, 20 April 2024

Sandeshkhali: People steer clear of lodging police complaints against Sheikh Shahjahan

Conversations with residents suggested they had little confidence in the police, particularly in light of their past experience with the force

Subhasis Chaudhuri Published 25.02.24, 05:03 AM
Sheikh Shahjahan.

Sheikh Shahjahan. File Photo.

The Bengal government has set up temporary police camps in Sandeshkhali for people to lodge complaints against Sheikh Shahjahan and his henchmen, apparently to contain the political damage, but the villagers have largely stayed away.

Conversations with residents suggested they had little confidence in the police, particularly in light of their past experience with the force.

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Besides, many are yet to shake off their fear of Shahjahan, or feel assured that the government would act against him, given that he has not yet been arrested.

District officials claimed that most of the complaints lodged related to land-grab and not “atrocities” — sexual assault and physical thrashings — allegations that have over the past few days turned Sandeshkhali into a political tinderbox and cornered the state government.

Till Saturday, the police had set up five camps but only one, located in Bermajur, had received a sizeable number of complaints.

“Till Saturday evening, 260 complaints were registered…. But 90 per cent of the complaints were related to land-grab or eviction from land,” a district official said.

“Only a handful of complaints were lodged alleging atrocities by Shahjahan and one Sirajuddin, alias Siraj Doctor, known to be the brother of Shahjahan.”

Another source in the district administration too claimed the number of complaints of sexual assault and physical violence appeared unexpectedly small compared with the allegations made by large turnouts of women before television cameras or visiting Opposition leaders.

“However, they may be apprehensive about lodging complaints against Shahjahan or his associates, fearing the authorities may not act against them,” an official said.

Basirhat superintendent of police Hossain Mehedi Rehman told The Telegraph the police were trying their best to earn the confidence of the local people, and were making public announcements inviting villagers to come forward and lodge complaints.

“There may initially be complaints of land-grabbing, but we have asked the people to lodge complaints about whatever grievances they have,” Rehman said.

Multiple sources in the district administration said the initiative to set up camps was laudable and showed the government’s intent, but it should be backed up by some “visible action” against Shahjahan and Sirajuddin.

That Shahjahan remains at large even 51 days after his associates attacked an Enforcement Directorate team that had come to raid his home is one reason the villagers are circumspect about coming forward, a source suggested.

In what appears a response to such sentiments, Trinamul has removed Sirajuddin from the post of its anchal sabhapati.

However, his replacement is Ajit Maiti, whose home was attacked on Friday by villagers who see him as a Shahjahan aide and accuse him of land-grab and violence.

“This (Maiti’s appointment) did not send the right message. While Supratim Sarkar, ADG (South Bengal), told Maiti in front of TV cameras on Friday that action would be taken against him if he is found guilty, the villagers are not convinced. They think the police are unlikely to touch him,” a source in the district administration said.

Another reason for the failure of the government’s confidence-building measures is some Trinamul leaders’ allegation that Thursday’s popular uprising — to free up a playground Shahjahan had captured — was stage-managed by the Opposition, several villagers said.

Many residents said they were afraid to lodge complaints against Shahjahan because some of his people had attacked their homes and threatened dire consequences after women from the area began agitating from February 7.

At the Bermajur police camp, made operational on Friday evening, a homemaker asked an officer why she should lodge a complaint with the police when the force had arrested her husband a year ago when he sought to file a complaint.

“The hooligans had grabbed our land and beaten up my husband. My husband went to lodge a complaint early last year, but the police arrested him after booking him under a false charge. Now he has to visit the court regularly. So what’s the use of lodging complaints with the police?” she said.

In Jeliakhali, villagers asked whether the police would register complaints against their own personnel who had tortured residents in connivance with Shahjahan and implicated them in false cases.

Many Sandeshkhali villagers raised these uncomfortable questions on a day fresh tension erupted in pockets such as Sardarpara, Majherpara and Kachharipara despite senior police officers like DGP Rajeev Kumar and ADG Sarkar promising “justice”.

“After yesterday’s attack on Maiti’s home, the home of another Trinamul leader, Milan Sarkar, was vandalised on Saturday,” a source in the administration said.

There were street protests at several places, too.

“It’s evident that the police and the ruling party are yet to earn the confidence of the local people. Only the arrest of Shahjahan and his brother can change the popular mood,” the source said.

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