NHRC spot enquiry report flags several human rights concerns in violence hit Sandeshkhali in West Bengal

Press release

National Human Rights Commission

New Delhi, 13th April, 2024

NHRC spot enquiry report flags several human rights concerns in violence hit Sandeshkhali in West Bengal

Seeks ATR within eight weeks on each of the recommendations made therein from the Government of West Bengal

The report uploaded on the NHRC website for wider dissemination of information

The National Human Rights Commission, NHRC, India in its spot enquiry report flags several human rights concerns seeking in violence hit in Sandeshkhali, West Bengal. The Commission’s spot enquiry has revealed several instances of atrocities inflicted upon the victims, which clearly demonstrate, prima facie, that there was a violation of human rights due to negligence in the prevention of such violation or abatement thereof by the public servant.

The Commission has sent its spot enquiry report to the Chief Secretary and DGP, West Bengal for submitting an Action Taken Report within eight weeks on each of the recommendations made therein. The Commission has also directed to upload the spot enquiry report on its website for wider dissemination of information.

It may be recalled that on 21st February, 2024, the NHRC, India had taken suo motu cognizance of print and electronic media reports that in Sandeshkhali, North 24th Paragana, West Bengal, innocent and impoverished women have been harassed and sexually assaulted by a group of local gang of a political person, as a result of which, for last few days, local villagers have started protesting for appropriate legal action against the perpetrators of horrific crimes indulged by various goons and anti-social elements, when the local Administration failed to take appropriate legal action against the perpetrators of crime.

In addition to calling for reports from the state government, the Commission, considering the gravity of the situation, had deputed an investigation team for a spot enquiry headed by one of its Members.

In response, thereto, the DG & IGP, West Bengal vide communication dated 29.02.2024, which revealed that a total of 25 cases were registered among which 07 cases were on alleged complaints of sexual offence against women and 24 accused persons were arrested. Efforts were also being made to arrest the absconding perpetrators of the crime. The overall situation of the entire Sandeshkhali PS and Nazat PS area was described to be well under control.

The NHRC investigation team found that there is a need to uproot the fear of these persons from the hearts of the victims to enable them to live their normal lives with their families and gain the confidence to live in society with dignity and pride. It is the duty of the district authorities being arms of a welfare state to take consistent measures to instill confidence in the residents of the area in general and victims in particular so that others who have been victims of crimes may come forward and file their complaints.

The report made the following observations:

i. The atmosphere due to the atrocities by the alleged accused persons rendered the victims silent and of intimidation, and terror created reluctant to seek justice. The villagers/victims faced assault, threat, sexual exploitation, land grabbing, and forced unpaid labour, and under the given circumstances they were compelled to seek livelihood outside the Sandeshkhali region/State.

ii. The allegations of discrimination/denial of benefits of State/Central Government schemes such as old age pension, MGNREGA, Public distribution system, financial help to build their houses and toilets etc., by the concerned officials in connivance with the alleged group of persons is of deep concern. Further, allegations of deprivation of the right to vote are serious in nature and undermine the democratic values of the nation.

iii. The pervasive fear of reprisal, coupled with the power dynamics at play, acted as a formidable barrier, preventing these individuals from voicing their grievances.

iv. This climate of terror not only perpetuates the cycle of abuse but also underscores the urgent need to create a safe and supportive environment for victims to break free from the shackles of silence.

v. The atmosphere of fear not only affects the victims but also has a negative impact on the growth and health of the children who constantly witness the ordeals of their parents in the hands of these alleged accused.

The NHRC team also interacted with the Police and Administration at Sandeshkhali and requested for further information but despite reminders, no reply has been given to date. The following recommendations were given by the NHRC team:

1. Reinstating trust in the rule of law and confidence in authorities

2. Ensuring witness protection and redressal of grievances

3. Counseling and Rehabilitation of Victims of sexual offences.

4. Return of the land to the legitimate owners

5. Impartial investigation of complaints by Central agencies

6. Initiating Awareness programmes

7. Operationalization of Nationwide Emergency Response System (NERS)

8. Vocational training and creating employment opportunities;

9. Reviving the land to make it suitable for agriculture-

10. Improving Socio-economic indicators and preparing area-specific plans

11. Appointing Special Rapporteurs to periodically report on the situation in Sandeshkhali;

12. Investigation of cases of missing women/ girls from the area of PS Sandeshkhali.

The Commission has noted that this incident is also seized by the High Court of Judicature at Calcutta in WPA No.4011 of 2024. It has decided to seek leave from the High Court to intervene in the matter.

The link to the NHRC proceeding with spot enquiry report: View