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Fresh protests in Sandeshkhali; locals torch property of TMC leaders

Armed with sticks, protestors set fire to thatched structures near a fishing yard in Belmajur, directing their anger towards the elusive TMC leader, Shahjahan Sheikh, and his brother Siraj.
Last Updated 23 February 2024, 12:05 IST

Kolkata: Fresh protests rattled the troubled enclave of Sandeshkhali in West Bengal's North 24 Parganas district on Friday, as enraged locals vented their ire by torching the property of TMC leaders accused of tormenting villagers besides staging demonstrations against perceived police inaction towards the perpetrators.

During the unrest, residents barricaded roads with logs and set them on fire to block the entry of police vehicles into Jhupkhali area of Sandeshkhali. Tensions persisted for the second consecutive day, with reports of TMC leaders being assaulted and their residences being ransacked.

Responding to the situation, Director General of Police (DGP) Rajeev Kumar, for the second consecutive day, went to the troubled region and pledged firm action against those responsible for the unrest.

Armed with sticks, protestors set fire to thatched structures near a fishing yard in Belmajur, directing their anger towards the elusive TMC leader, Shahjahan Sheikh, and his brother Siraj. One of the torched structures belonged to Siraj, it was revealed.

"For years, police did nothing. That is why we are doing everything to reclaim our land and honour," a demonstrator said.

Subsequently, law enforcement personnel intervened and tried to pacify the agitated crowd. Later in the afternoon, DGP Kumar arrived in the locality and engaged in discussions with the locals.

"Please register your complaints. We will take action. We will establish a police camp here. However, I earnestly request you not to take the law into your own hands," Kumar told the residents.

Speaking to reporters, Kumar reiterated, "Police will take stern action. We are committed to establishing the rule of the law in the area." He affirmed that strict measures would be taken against any person resorting to vigilantism.

Kumar said that the police and administration had initiated the process of reclaiming land unlawfully seized from villagers.

As police began efforts to apprehend villagers involved in arson and property destruction, women who had accused the absconding TMC leader, Shahjahan Sheikh, and his associates of sexual abuse spanning years, took to the streets. They staged protests, even resorting to lying down in front of vehicles to prevent the police from taking away their men.

"Police have not been able to arrest Shahjahan Sheikh but are now apprehending our men. Who will protect us if police take away our men? All these years, police were nowhere to be found," a protester lamented.

These renewed protests unfolded a day after the region witnessed turmoil and arson, fueled by accusations against local TMC leaders for sexual misconduct and forcible land acquisition.

DGP Kumar had previously visited Sandeshkhali on Wednesday, engaging in deliberations with police officials. He spent the night there before returning to Kolkata on Thursday.

The unrest in Sandeshkhali stems from allegations against Sheikh and his supporters regarding land encroachment and sexual assault. Shahjahan has remained elusive since a mob attack on Enforcement Directorate officials on January 5.

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(Published 23 February 2024, 12:05 IST)

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