Kolkata: Out of 303 people who were allegedly displaced from their homes and workplaces in the violence that followed the West Bengal Assembly election last year, 70 have been able to return, advocate general S.N. Mookherjee told the Calcutta High Court Tuesday.
With alleged victims claiming that the state had failed to help them, and that they were facing “threats” from the police, the court asked the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) and the West Bengal Human Rights Commission (WBHRC) to submit an affidavit on whether they would be able to conduct an investigation into the complaints.
Twenty-two alleged victims were present in court when the matter came up for hearing before a bench of Chief Justice Prakash Shrivastava and Justice Rajarshi Bharadwaj. Advocate and former Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) poll candidate Priyanka Tibrewal, one of the petitioners, told the court about the “threats”.
“The sub-divisional police officer of Falta has told the victims who have lost their homes that they will not get them back because they have taken names in the high court,” claimed Tibrewal while presenting her case. She also said she had 40 further complaints, beyond the names on the state government’s list.
On 2 May, 2021, incidents of violence broke out in West Bengal and several deaths were reported as the results of the Assembly election were declared, with the ruling Trinamool Congress (TMC) winning a decisive victory. Both the BJP and the Left accused the TMC of assaults on their workers.
Three months later, in August, the Calcutta High Court passed an order directing the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) to investigate alleged cases of murder, rape, and crimes against women uring the post-poll violence, and a separate special investigation team (SIT) under the state police to investigate other allegations.
Inquiry by human rights commissions
According to Mookherjee, out of the 303 alleged victims, 70 have returned to their homes, 16 couldn’t be contacted, 43 have stayed away citing danger in spite of police assurances, and 18 are absconding due to pending criminal cases. One name has been repeated, and the remaining 155 are residing elsewhere for work or study.
The petitioner has now sought the Calcutta High Court’s intervention to form a two-member committee to investigate the allegations and threats.
“Let one member each from the National Human Rights Commission and the West Bengal Human Rights Commission be appointed to enquire into these complaints,” Tibrewal told the court.
But the WBHRC objected to this, with its counsel saying, “Under the Protection of Human Rights Act, 1993, the NHRC and a state Human Rights Commission cannot conduct a joint inquiry.” It was also pointed out that the WBHRC currently lacks a chairperson.
The bench has now asked both the NHRC and the WBHRC to file an affidavit on whether they can carry out an inquiry into the complaints, before the court passes an order. Ahead of the next hearing, the court has also sought a detailed report of the data shared by the state government on returning the alleged victims to their homes.
Waiting to return
Tibrewal told the court that apart from the state’s list of displaced persons, she has 40 fresh complaints. The court asked her to provide a copy of the writ petition and other documents to the WBHRC in an affidavit within the next two days.
Tibrewal then pointed out the 22 alleged victims present in court, still waiting to return.
“It’s going to be almost a year now. I have gone to all the police officers, including the seniormost, but haven’t been able to return home,” claimed Sumita Shaw, a resident of Baruipur who said she hadn’t been able to return home since violence broke out in her village in South 24 Parganas after the polls last year.
“Those who returned home are still being tortured and dragged out of their homes. We weren’t even able to cast ballots for the civic polls held two months ago. How can we live like this,” she asked.
Rita Naik claimed that she had been suspended from her job at B.N. Bose Hospital in Barrackpore last year for supporting and working for the BJP.
“On 2 May, the results were declared — and on 18 May, I was suspended because I was an active member of the BJP. Uttam Das and Bablu Biswas, who are Trinamool leaders, put pressure on the superintendent and got me suspended,” she said, adding that she hasn’t had a job for the past year.