Trinamool Leader Arrested After Rape Allegations By Women In Bengal's Sandeshkhali

Police said sections of rape have been added to the first information report.

The issue has been at the centre of a political firestorm.

A Trinamool Congress block president, who had been missing since women in West Bengal's Sandeshkhali levelled allegations of sexual harassment and rape against him and another party member, has been arrested. Police said Shibu Prasad Hazra was arrested on Saturday and sections of rape have been added to the first information report. 

The Sandeshkhali issue has been at the centre of a political firestorm in the state, with the opposition and the ruling party trading charges. Delegations of the BJP and the Congress were stopped from visiting the village on Friday. 

The Trinamool Congress said Hazra's arrest does not mean that the allegations of women being raped in the village, levelled by the opposition, are true, and that the state police is doing its job. 

West Bengal Director General of Police Rajeev Kumar said a woman did not make any allegations when the police spoke to her but made a statement before a magistrate under Section 164 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC). 

Addressing a press conference on Saturday, the state police chief said, "Despite talking to so many women we still haven't received any such (rape) complaints. A woman has given a statement before the magistrate. We have added it to the FIR."

To a question on prohibitory orders under Section 144 of the CrPC being imposed in the village, Mr Kumar said that was done to maintain law and order and not to prevent political parties from going to the village. 

"Some questions were raised about imposing Section 144 when there was no loss of life. It was because some people were trying to give a communal colour or spread lawlessness around the incident, which is why we imposed it to maintain law and order. We will face whatever the truth is," he said, adding that the imposition of prohibitory orders in 19 areas will be reviewed and they may be lifted from some parts in a day or two. 

Hazra is one of two aides of local Trinamool strongman Sheikh Shahjahan who have been accused by some women of sexual harassment and land grabbing. The other aide, Uttam Sardar, had been arrested earlier while Shahjahan has been on the run since an Enforcement Directorate team was attacked by a mob during a raid on his house in connection with an alleged ration scam on January 5.

Reacting to Hazra's arrest, Trinamool Congress leader Kunal Ghosh said in Hindi, "The police, administration and government are following raj dharma. The arrest does not mean that the false allegations of rape and molestation (made by the opposition) are true. There is a dispute over land and payment. What the opposition is saying is not true."

"In Madhya Pradesh, a woman was gang-raped and set on fire. Where is the National Commission for Women? Where is the BJP? The large-scale stories spread about Sandeshkhali by the opposition are false. The police are looking into whatever the truth is," he added.

'Won't Brush Anything Under The Carpet'

On the allegations made by the villagers, DGP Kumar said, "It would be collectively wrong for all of us to brush this kind of incident under the carpet. We won't do that. We will take strict action against the culprits. But let's not create hype."

Stating that the allegations of land grabbing seemed to be the "main factor", the state police chief said camps will be set up on Sunday and teams from the land department will accept complaints. The police, he said, will act on any evidence that is found.

Asked about Sheikh Shahjahan, Mr Kumar said, "There is a case that has been filed by the Enforcement Directorate. Have they arrested him? A case that was registered by us has been stopped by the ED."