Probe Into Post-Poll Violence In West Bengal
The Calcutta High Court refused to call back its order to probe the post-poll violence in West Bengal after the government of West Bengal filed a plea to recall the mandate. The court passed an order on June 18, 2021, directing the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) to examine the incidents of violence after the West Bengal elections. The NHRC formed a 7-member panel to probe the post-poll violence following the court’s orders.
Post Poll Violence
Violence erupted in West Bengal soon after the electoral results were declared. The Trinamool Congress (TMC) cadre allegedly attacked, humiliated and degraded members and their families of rival political parties.
BJP alleged that 17 of their workers were killed by TMC members within nine days of the electoral verdict. The party cited many events to bolster its claim. For example, the BJP claimed that a worker, Ranjit Das, was murdered and was left hanging from a tree in North 24 Pargana’s Amdanga constituency. The party even circulated a photograph to prove their claim.
The BJP claimed that Kush Khetrapal, a party worker from the Bankura district, was murdered. They circulated another photo of a man hanging from a tree. The police refuted this claim stating the deceased Kush Khetrapal died due to drowning, and there was no violence involved in his death.
Similar stories echoed the point of political killings committed by the TMC workers. However, TMC MLA and spokesperson Tapas Roy rebutted, “Spreading fake news, morphed photographs and edited videos is an old practice of the BJP. Even when a debt-ridden farmer commits suicide or a man takes his life after a failed affair, the BJP sees an opportunity to create a sensation.”
Amidst the war of narratives, the people who were attacked fled to the neighbouring state of Assam. They took shelter in camps set up by the Assam government. Himanta Biswa Sarma, the sitting chief minister of Assam, tweeted the plight of 300-400 Bengal BJP who crossed over to Dhubri in Assam. He urged Mamata Banerjee to stop the ‘ugly dance of democracy’.
Victims staying in these shelter camps narrated their ordeals. Talking to News18, 40-year-old Meghu Das states, “On Tuesday morning, some people came searching for me. They tried to kill me, saying I voted for the BJP and hence it’s time for revenge. It’s an ‘eye for an eye’ for them. I somehow managed to save myself and crossed over to Assam”.
He added he was scared and was living along with 250 people in Rangpagli village. He does not even have the means to perform the last rites of his mother.
Many horror stories are emerging from the area following the elections. Two separate applications requesting an SIT probe into the post-poll violence brought out the horrors endured by women BJP workers and voters. The pleas were moved before the court on May 18, 2021. One appeal was filed by a 60-year-old woman and another by a minor girl.
The 60-year-old woman in her application alleged that she was gang-raped in front of her six-year-old grandson. She said that the supporters of the state’s ruling party committed the crime, which took place on the intervening night of May 4 – May 5.
In the other application, a minor girl from the Scheduled Caste community alleged that she was gang-raped by members of the TMC, which happened on May 9.
The older woman stated that police conduct was unsatisfactory and asked for the case transferred to an SIT or an independent agency. The application of the minor girl held the same request.
The Union Home Ministry and the Calcutta High Court intervened to look into the issue.
Ministry of Home Affairs and Calcutta High Court Intervention
In the wake of the post-poll violence in West Bengal, the Union Home Ministry asked for a report to be submitted. The Home Ministry tweeted, “MHA has asked the West Bengal government for a report on the post-election violence targeting opposition political workers in the state”. The ministry also sought a report on the law and order situation from the West Bengal Governor Jagdeep Dhankar.
The four-member team formed by the Centre submitted its report on May 28 2021, and presented it to Union Minister of State for Home Affairs, G Kishan Reddy. The team visited the South 24 Parganas and North 24 Paraganas districts of the state and spoke to the locals and family members of the deceased about the probe. The Group of Intellectuals and Academicians (GIA) prepared the report after a fact-finding mission of their own. It was led by Monika Arora, a Supreme Court advocate and a convener of GIA. They submitted their report ‘Khela in Bengal 2021’ to MoS, Home Affairs G. Kishan Reddy.
The Calcutta High Court intervened and passed an order in one of the cases related to post-poll violence and constituted a committee with NHRC, SHRC and State Legislative Services Authority (SLSA) to coordinate the rehabilitation of displaced persons in the Entally constituency.
The court directed the SLSA to look into complaints of displaced persons who were being prevented from returning to their homes and commanded the committee to take necessary steps for their rehabilitation.
After perusing the report submitted by SLSA, the court observed, “State from the very beginning had been denying everything but the facts as having been placed on record by the petitioners are different”. The court further stated that this is evident from the SLSA report dated June 3, 2021.
The court ordered the NHRC Chairman to constitute a committee to examine the complaints based on the report. The court said the committee was formed as the instances projected by the petitioners allege human right violations and ensure there is no obstruction to the process. The court order stated, “Such obstruction shall be viewed seriously, which may entail action under the Contempt of Court Acts”.
The West Bengal government filed a plea in the High Court to recall this order that the court rejected, and the case has been rescheduled to be heard on June 30.