"Don't Compare With Manipur", SC Refuses Plea For Sandeshkhali Probe

The Supreme Court refused to entertain a plea seeking a probe into the violence in Sandeshkhali, West Bengal. When the counsel cited SC's order on the Manipur violence, the bench said, Don't compare this with Manipur. Manipur is still an ongoing thing."

Tanya Savkoor
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Image: Asian News International

The Supreme Court of India refused to hear a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) seeking a probe into the Sandeshkhali violence by the Central Bureau of Investigation or a Special Investigation Team. On February 19, the SC bench, comprising Justices B V Nagarathna and Augustine George Masih opined that the Calcutta High Court also has the power to constitute the SIT, and there cannot be dual forums or parallel proceedings. Notably, the Calcutta HC took suo moto cognizance of newspaper reports on alleged sexual harassment of women living in Sandeshkhali, West Bengal, and tribal lands that had been forcibly taken over.


The present Public Interest Litigation was filed before the apex Court by Advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava. The counsel then relied on the Supreme Court orders in the Manipur violence case, where an SIT and a committee comprising retired High Court judges was constituted to probe cases related to sexual violence against women. The Bench asked the counsel not to compare the Manipur violence case with the instant one. "Don't compare this with Manipur. Manipur is still an ongoing thing," Justice Nagarathna said.

Justice Nagarathna said, “A learned single judge of the High Court has taken cognisance of this matter. Whatever reliefs you want within that cognisance, you can seek impleadment. Because local HC will be best to assess the situation...We understand your eagerness and sympathy for the victims etc. but monitoring of an investigation by this Court is completely different."

What Is Happening In Sandeshkhali?

A group of women from Sandeshkhali in West Bengal hit the streets holding massive protests to demand the arrest of Trinamool Congress leader Sheikh Shahjahan and his two aides, Shiba Prasad Hazra and Uttam Sardar. Sardar and Hazra have been arrested, while Sheikh Shahjahan has been on the run since allegations of him attacking Enforcement Directorate (ED) officials after a raid at his premises last month. 

A video is circulating online, in which a woman can be heard saying, "The party (Trinamool) men would come and survey a home that has a beautiful wife, whose girl is young. Then they take the women to the party office... Nights after night they would be kept there... till they are satisfied."


As the riots escalated, Section 144 of the Code of Criminal Procedure was imposed till February 19 in and around 500 metres of area in seven Gram Panchayats in West Bengal. However, after hearing a PIL seeking an interim stay on the prohibitory orders, the Calcutta High Court requested reinstatement of the curfew. 

What The Women Say, Amid Violence & Curfew

West Bengal governor CV Ananda Bose visited the area on February 12, when several women pleaded to him for justice. Many of them held placards that said, "We have lost confidence in the local police. Save us. We need CRPF,” as he entered Sandeshkhali. When Bose interacted with the women to hear their woes, they expressed, "Give justice to us. Our men cannot stay at home now so they have fled. If we show our faces, our men will be arrested." 

Speaking to the media, Ananda Bose said, "What I saw was ghastly, shocking, shattering to my senses. I saw something which I should never have seen; I heard many things which I should never have heard. I cannot believe this could happen in Kabiguru Rabindranath Tagore's land."

On February 13. a ten-member special women's police team led by IPS Soma Das Mitra was dispatched to the violence-hit region. However, reportedly, not a single woman in the entire village complained of sexual harassment before the team. Mamata Banerjee said that the police team is going door to door to hear their complaints. According to NDTV, the women have not complained about sexual harassment but they agreed that they were called to the TMC office at odd hours and threatened if they refused.


They also said that the men in their family were being tortured by the leaders. "These incidents must have taken place, otherwise why will the women say these things? You must enquire for yourself. Why else will women come out on the streets and speak out? Are they lying? There must be truth in these statements. We are living in fear. We don't come out of our homes because of fear," a woman told NDTV.

Even representatives from the National Commission for Women (NCW)  visited the violence-hit area on February 16 to record the women's statements. The fact-finding team stated that the women alleged that those who dared to speak up against the atrocities would face serious retaliation. The NCW said, "Disturbing testimonies gathered from women in the village painted a harrowing picture of widespread fear and systematic abuse. Victims in Sandeshkhali recounted instances of physical and sexual violence perpetrated by both police officers and members of the Trinamool Congress (TMC)."

Political Blame Game

Soon after the Sandeshkhali protests made headlines, the opposition party was quick to point fingers, turning the situation into a political debacle. Smriti Irani from BJP alleged that CM Mamata Banerjee is responsible for allowing "genocide" and "mass rape" of Hindus. She said that the TMC leader will "now allow her men to pick out young Hindu married women to be raped night after night in the TMC office cannot be articulated in mere words. Can we as citizens be mute spectators?"

On February 13, clashes broke out between the police personnel and Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) supporters after efforts were made to defy prohibitory orders in the vicinity of the Basirhat Superintendent of Police's office. Police detained the West Bengal BJP chief Sukanta Majumdar, other leaders and workers while they were on a sit-in protest outside the office of senior police official, Basirhat.

Majumdar said, "The police detained us and party workers... The police misbehaved even with the women workers of the party... We will take the police to court... They treated us like thieves or criminals... The police do not obey the Constitution of the CrPC, they only listen to Mamata Banerjee... All we want to say to the police is to release our party workers. We will leave... We are ready to face lathis and bullets for the dignity of Bengali women," Amid the scuffle, he was injured and is currently hospitalised. 

Responding to the BJP's claims of rape, Mamata Banerjee said, "First, they entered the area and targeted Sheikh Shahjahan through the Enforcement Directorate and then they started the trouble there, by getting people in. There is an RSS base in Sandeshkhali. There were riots earlier too." CM Banerjee said, "I have never allowed injustice in my life. I sent (representatives of) the state women's commission (to Sandeshkhali) immediately and 17 people have been arrested."

Supreme court rape west bengal section 144 sheikh shahjahan women led protest