Protests against the alleged land grabbing by Trinamool Congress leader Shahjahan Sheikh and his brother Sheikh Sirajuddin spread to the Majherpara and Halderpara localities in West Bengal’s Sandeshkhali village on Saturday, reported The Indian Express.

Some people also chased the family members of a local party leader in Halderpara, alleging that they had grabbed villagers’ lands and given them to Sirajuddin.

The Sandeshkali village in North 24 Parganas district has been at the centre of a political row for nearly a month. The village has witnessed unprecedented protests by women in connection with the allegations of sexual assault and land grabbing against Sheikh and his associates.

On Thursday, a group of residents held protests and set fire to the guard room of a fishery in the nearby village of Jhupkhali, leading to the imposition of Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure in the area, prohibiting the gathering of four or more people.

One of the women protestors on Saturday confronted the police, questioning why Sheikh had not been arrested when first made the allegations against him.

“You are now coming to us to take complaints,” the protestor was quoted as saying by The Indian Express. “When we went to file complaints, we were not entertained. In front of the police, TMC goons beat us. Why did you not take any action then? We do not want government help. We do not want Mamata Banerjee’s sympathy. We need peace. We are demanding the death penalty for Sheikh.”

After the fresh tensions, West Bengal Director General of Police Rajeev Kumar accepted that there “has been a mistake” in the police’s approach to the complaints. “We will establish the rule of law,” said Kumar. “If you have a complaint, tell us. Do not take the law in your hand.”

The police have started a camp in the Bermajur village for people to file official complaints. On Saturday alone, they received 50 complaints of land grabbing against Sirajuddin Sheikh.

HM Rehman, the superintendent of police in Basirhat, told ANI that so far, nine people whose lands were grabbed have had their properties returned to them.

Meanwhile, Sandeshkhali MLA Sukumar Mahato stated that the Trinamool Congress had expelled Sirajuddiin nearly a month ago after receiving various complaints against him. “He assured us that he would return all grabbed land,” said Mahato. “Meanwhile, the Sandeshkhali agitation started.”

Sandeshkhali case

Shahjahan Sheikh has been absconding since January 5, when officials of the Enforcement Directorate were assaulted in Sandeshkhali as they carried out raids in connection with an alleged ration distribution scam. A mob allegedly attacked them with stones, bricks and batons when they arrived to raid the Trinamool leader’s home.

Following this, several local women accused Sheikh and his associates of torturing and sexually harassing them over several years, and also of grabbing their lands for prawn cultivation.

On February 8, women held protests demanding that Sheikh and two of his associates, Shiba Prasad Hazra and Uttam Sardar, be immediately arrested. They have alleged that Sheikh and his associates used to survey homes to look for young women, whom they would take to the party office and sexually assault.

The protesting women on February 9 burnt down three poultry farms owned by Hazra, which they claimed were built on land forcibly grabbed from locals.

The next day, Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure was imposed in different pockets of Sandeshkhali and internet services were suspended in 16 panchayats. Sardar was arrested the same day, hours after being suspended by the Trinamool Congress for a period of six years.

On February 13, the Calcutta High Court quashed the order imposing restrictions under Section 144 of the Criminal Procedure Code but ordered the deployment of additional armed police personnel in the area.