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Tribals tortured for voting against TMC, MNREGA wages forcibly taken: NCST's Sandeshkhali probe team

Complainants told a three-member NCST team, led by its Vice-Chairperson Ananta Nayak, that the West Bengal Police allegedly 'protected' Shahjahan and his accomplices.
Last Updated 24 February 2024, 11:03 IST

New Delhi: TMC leader Sheikh Shahjahan and his associates, accused of land grab and sexual assault under coercion in West Bengal's Sandeshkhali, would forcibly take MNREGA wages from poor tribal families and torture them for voting against the party, the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST) has learned.

Complainants told a three-member NCST team, led by its Vice-Chairperson Ananta Nayak, that the West Bengal Police allegedly "protected" Shahjahan and his accomplices.

The probe team is back in Delhi and is in the process of filing a report, which will be sent to the government.

Nayak told PTI that the panel has received more than 50 complaints of sexual harassment of tribal women and land grab by Shahjahan and his associates.

The riverine Sandeshkhali area in West Bengal's North 24 Parganas district -- situated on the borders of the Sunderbans, about 100 kilometres from Kolkata -- has been on the boil for more than a month with protests against Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Shahjahan, who is absconding, and his supporters.

"The NCST team learned that Shahjahan would instruct poor tribal people to give him their MNREGA earnings. And in case they had already exhausted it, he would ask them to borrow money from lenders and give it to him," Nayak said and added he has not seen anything "like this across the country".

The complaints, the majority of whom are Hindus, told the probe team that the accused and his associates tortured people who voted for other parties in elections, the NCST vice-chairperson said.

The panel learned that Shahjahan and his associates would ask local women to come for meetings late at night, torturing the family members of those who did not comply with his demands, he said.

"If the victim approached the police, they would not file an FIR or a complaint and instead ask the complainants to 'negotiate' with Shahjahan. The police backed the accused in this case," the NCST vice-chairperson said.

The complaints also told the NCST team that the accused would ask tribal families to hand over their land to him and release saltwater in the fields if they protested.

Nayak said Shahjahan allegedly grabbed land of more than a thousand tribal and non-tribal people in an area stretching more than 10 kilometres.

On February 20, the commission issued notices to the chief secretary of West Bengal and the state's police head, asking them to submit factual and action taken reports on the matter within three days.

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(Published 24 February 2024, 11:03 IST)

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