A women's rights group on Monday demanded that the West Bengal government immediately probe alleged police atrocities in Bhangar and withdraw fake charges against leaders of an ongoing movement opposed to the setting up of a power grid in the area.
The 12-member team of WSS (Women against Sexual Violence and State Repression), who visited the violence-stricken villages of Bhangar, said the government should immediately start a dialogue with the villagers to "de-escalate the situation".
"We have reports of 23 village houses and four-five shops being vandalised by the police on January 16 when police entered the villages. There were also instances of sexual and physical assault on women," WSS team member Madhuri Krishnamurti told media.
"A woman was sexually assaulted by police in front of her disabled husband and another's hand was broken in three places during the police beating," she added.
"The villagers also alleged that the two persons killed during the January 16 clash between police and agitators were in fact 'murdered by the police in cold blood'. The government must take immediate action against the police personnel and goons involved in the violence," Krishnamurti said.
Krishnamurti also accused the state government of trying to quash the land movement by arresting the leaders on fake charges and tagging them as terrorists.
"One of our members Sharmistha Chowdhury is presently in jail for supporting the movement. Many leaders of the mass movement were also arrested under UAPA (Unlawful Activity Prevention Act) which can be only used against persons endangering the integrity and sovereignty of the country. Attempts to paint the legitimate and peaceful protest as unconstitutional or terrorist must stop," she added.
Another member of the visiting team said the land acquisition process at Bhangar is illegal even by the older land acquisition Act of 1984, as the villagers were repeatedly misinformed about the project and the compensation packages arbitrarily decided.
"The illegal acts about the Bhangar project started as early as 2003 when the 13-acre land was taken over without informing the motive and scale of the project. The whole act of giving compensation to the villagers was handled by a local Trinamool Congress leader who decided the packages arbitrarily. None of the government officials were involved in the process," Advocate Shalini Ghera alleged.
"A case against the forcible land acquisition is still pending in the high court and Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee has said that 11 families have not taken the compensation. How then did the work for the power grid advance," she wondered.
Taking a swipe at the Trinamool Congress-led state government for its harsh stand against the land movement, the WSS members urged the government to immediately start a dialogue with the villagers as part of confidence-building measures.
"A party that came to power by supporting the land movements of Singur and Nandigram is now taking harsh stand on another land movement. They should hold immediate and unconditional talks with the protesting villagers and undertake confidence building measures to gain back the trust of the village," they said.
South 24 Parganas district's Bhangar, known for its history of political violence, was on the boil since November over 'forced' acquisition of 16 acres of farmland -- spread over the villages of Khamarait, Machhi Bhanga, Tona and Padmapukur -- by the state government for the Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd (PGCIL).
The area flared up when angry protestors fought a pitched battle with police when the law-keepers tried to enter Padmapukur village in January. The agitators hurled stones and bricks, surrounded the police vehicles and also torched some police vans.
Two persons were shot dead and a several were injured in the clash.
Following the incident, the West Bengal government announced the cancellation of the power grid project and said no land would be taken from the villagers if they were not willing to part with it.
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