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'Taking MNREGA Earnings, Torture For Voting Against TMC': NCST Probe Reveals Allegations Against Shahjahan, Aides In Sandeshkhali

The individuals who lodged a complaint informed a three-person delegation from the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes, headed by Vice-Chairperson Ananta Nayak, that they believe the West Bengal Police shielded Shahjahan and his associates.

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North 24 Parganas: Local women wait to meet National Commission for Women (NCW) Chairperson Rekha Sharma (not seen) during her visit to Sandeshkhali, in North 24 Parganas district, Monday, Feb. 19, 2024. (PTI Photo) Photo: File/PTI
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National Commission for Scheduled Tribes has said that the people of Sandeshkhali accused TMC leader Sheikh Shahjahan and his group of forcefully taking MNREGA wages from poor tribal families and subjecting them to mistreatment for voting against the ruling party in West Bengal.

The party leaders have also been accused of land grab and sexual assault under coercion.

The individuals who lodged a complaint informed a three-person delegation from the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes (NCST), headed by Vice-Chairperson Ananta Nayak, that they believe the West Bengal Police shielded Shahjahan and his associates.

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

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Nayak informed PTI that the committee has received over 50 reports of sexual harassment involving tribal women and allegations of land seizure by Shahjahan and his group.

Nayak reportedly said, "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," and also added he has not seen anything "like this across the country".

The majority of complainants, who are mostly Hindus, informed the investigation team that the accused and his accomplices had subjected individuals who voted for different political parties in elections to torture, as stated by the vice-chairperson of the NCST.

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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 Nayak said.

The allegations also indicated to the NCST team that the perpetrator would demand tribal families to surrender their land to him and flood the fields with saltwater if they resisted.

Nayak stated that Shahjahan reportedly seized land from over a thousand tribal and non-tribal individuals in an area spanning more than 10 kilometers.

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.

The riverine Sandeshkhali region in the North 24 Parganas district of West Bengal, located near the Sunderbans and about 100 kilometers from Kolkata, has been experiencing unrest for more than a month due to demonstrations against Shahjahan, a leader of the Trinamool Congress (TMC), who is currently evading authorities, and his followers.

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