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Sandeshkhali unrest: TMC leader Shibu Prasad Hazra arrested, rape charges added to FIR after a woman records statement before magistrate

Shibu Prasad Hazra is the second major arrest in the case as earlier the West Bengal Police had arrested Uttam Sardar. However, the main accused Sheikh Shajahan still remains absconding

Trinamool Congress (TMC) leader Shibu Prasad Hazra, who was “missing” after women of Sandeshkhali alleged systemic rape and sexual assault, was arrested on Saturday (17th February). Hazra is the TMC Block President and was named in the initial complaints by the Sandeshkhali women along with two others Uttam Sardar and the main accused Sheikh Shajahan. Hazra was arrested from a hideout in Sandeshkhali and will be produced before a local court on Sunday. He has been booked for rape and other charges under relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

Police said that Hazra and another TMC member have been accused of rape and sexual abuse by women in Sandeshkhali.

This is the second major arrest in the case as earlier the West Bengal Police had arrested Uttam Sardar. However, the main accused Sheikh Shajahan remains absconding. So far, the police have arrested a total of 18 accused in connection with the Sandeshkhali land grabbing, institutional rape, and sexual assault case among other allegations by local women.

Additionally, after a survivor gave statement before the magistrate under Section 164 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, the police have expanded the charges to include Sections 376D (gangrape) and 307 (attempt to murder).

Addressing a press conference on Saturday, West Bengal Director General of Police Rajeev Kumar said sections of rape have been added to the First Information Report (FIR). According to him, a woman did not make any allegations when the police spoke to her but made a statement before a magistrate under section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).

He said, “Despite talking to so many women we still haven’t received any such (rape) complaints. A woman has given a statement before the magistrate. We have added it to the FIR.”

Sheikh Shahjahan, the prime accused in this case, who is also the prime accused in the violent attack on the Enforcement Directorate personnel in Sandeshkhali, is still ‘absconding’ even after a month and a half of that incident.

On opposition’s criticism, State Police DG Rajeev Kumar blamed the ED, questioning why the central agency has not arrested Shahjahan after the attack.

He claimed that when the state police started an investigation against the accused, the ED stopped the investigation. 

The DG further claimed that the police had not received any complaint before 8th February and said, “We have not received any complaint from Sandeshkhali before February 8. Since then, we have received all complaints, everything is being investigated. The women of Sandeshkhali can approach the police without fear and express their views.”

Sandeshkhali horror

Tensions have been high in Sandeshkhali since January when local women staged protests demanding the arrest of Sheikh Shahjahan and his accomplices. The Sandeshkhali women have accused them of forcibly acquiring land, pumping saltwater into fields to render them unusable, and engaging in institutional sexual harassment. The women have accused them of sexually assaulting women “night after night and release them only when they are satisfied”.

The National Commission for Scheduled Castes (NCSC) on Friday (16h February) after its visit to Sandeshkhali in West Bengal submitted a report recommending the President’s rule in the state citing complete lawlessness. The report was submitted to President Droupadi Murmu. NCSC Chairperson Arun Halder also met with the President. 

Halder said the President had assured the NCSC team that she would look into the matter and take action. The NCSC team was also allegedly misbehaved with by several police officials when it tried to enter Sandeskhali to meet with victims of sexual assault.

Halder said, “Criminals in the state have joined hands with the government there.”

A BJP central team also visited Sandeshkhali on Friday and a Congress delegation is due to visit today (Saturday). The 6-member BJP delegation constituted by the party’s national president, JP Nadda, to visit Sandeshkhali was stopped by the police in West Bengal on Friday.

Earlier on Wednesday (14th February), West Bengal Governor CV Ananda Bose submitted a report to the Ministry of Home Affairs over the Sandeshkhali protests. The report held the West Bengal police responsible for colluding with “rowdy elements” in Sandeshkhali. 

According to reports, the Governor visited the affected area on Monday and discussed with the protesting women. Governor Bose stated in the report that the local people are calling for the establishment of either a Special Task Force or a Special Investigation Team to investigate their claims of sexual harassment involving TMC leaders.

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