‘Give Us Justice’: Faces Covered, ‘Nameless’ Women of Sandeshkhali Plead Bengal Governor on His Visit
They did not want to show their faces. They wouldn’t reveal their names. Yet the women of Sandeshkhali village in West Bengal’s 24 Parganas district stood by the main road, placards in hand. “We have lost confidence in the local police. Save us. We need CRPF,” some of them read.
The women covered their faces with their sarees, and many while crying and seeking justice fell at the feet of governor CV Ananda Bose who was visiting the area on Monday.
The women here have alleged sexual harassment and torture by “missing” Trinamool Congress leader Shajahan Sheikh and his associates. Sheikh has not been seen in public since a mob attack on Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials when they went to search his premises in Sandeshkhali over an alleged ration distribution scam.
One has to cross the Bidyadhari river to reach Sandeshkhali from the other side. Bose arrived at the ferry ghat directly from the airport. “I was in Kerala, trying to organise an exhibition for Bengal. I was shocked to hear the news of Sandeshkhali. I cut short my visit and am going to Sandeshkhali to find out what sandesh (message) the people have,” he said.
News18 followed the governor on his journey. From nearby Minakhan village to Shajahan’s turf, everywhere Bose came across various placards. “Give back 100 days’ money,” was written on some of them by protesters who had gathered around.
The governor was escorted by a police launch as he crossed the river. Reaching Sandeshkhali, he did not wait for a rickshaw or other means of transportation and started walking.
As the governor tried to speak to a woman, she fell at his feet, crying. Others followed.
“Give justice to us. Our men cannot stay at home now. They have fled. We have no confidence in the local police,” said many of them.
One elderly woman said, “Even last night they (the police) came to our house and they were calling us. If we show our faces, they will arrest our men.”
Another woman tied a rakhi on the governor’s hand. “Please remove section 144 (which prohibits the gathering of five or more individuals). Please ask the CRPF to come here. We can’t stay like this anymore,” she pleaded with the governor as tears streamed down her face.
Bose tried to console them and listened to them for over half an hour.
When News18 spoke to these women, several of them said, “We will not show our faces. We will not give our names. They will then take our men to the thana. They asked us not to meet the governor. The police told us not to come out.”
News18 found another woman standing by a shop near the Sandeshkhali police thana. “We can’t tell you our names. We are standing here with flowers because we know the governor can solve our problems. They used to force us to go to rallies, they used to make us toil without any money. We will not stop till Shajahan and his aide Shibaprasad Hazra get arrested. We want peace in Sandeshkhali,” she said.
Many of the women tied rakhis on the governor’s hand. As he promised them that he was like their brother and would take care of them, the teary-eyed women clapped with joy, and they followed Bose to the edge of the village when he left.
Another woman who too refused to disclose her name told News18, “The police will not do anything. They are with Shajahan and his people. We hope the governor will help us. Our men are afraid to come back home because the police will lodge false cases against them.”
West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee on Monday said those behind the Sandeshkhali violence had been put behind bars.
“Anyone can go to Sandeshkhali. We have no issues with that. We have already sent the state women’s commission team there. They returned and submitted a report. Those who have instigated violence have been arrested. The situation is being monitored closely and necessary steps are being taken,” she said while speaking to reporters at Dumurjala stadium in Howrah district.
The governor said he was directly going to Delhi from Sandeshkhali. “It’s shocking what has happened in Sandeshkhali,” he said. “I am their brother and I will bring back their confidence.”
While the governor was on his visit, a team of BJP MLAs led by leader of opposition in the assembly Suvendu Adhikari was stopped by authorities from going to Sandeshkhali, they said.
“A woman IPS officer told me before we started that they would not allow us because of some request. I am the leader of the opposition and other MLAs were all sitting in a bus. They are not allowing us. We will be with the people of Sandeshkhali,” Adhikari told News18. “The governor visited Sandeshkhali following our request. After he visited these areas, he informed us that whatever we had alleged was all true. He will submit a report to the union home ministry on Tuesday and then we will see. Our mothers and sisters are not safe there, and we will take care of them. We will keep a watch on the TMC team going there. They (the police) will not allow us but they will allow them (the TMC). This will not be tolerated. We will monitor this and then we will take steps.”