For a party that rose to power on the back of a movement to protect agricultural land in Singur and Nandigram way back in 2006-07, the wheel would seem to have come full circle for the Trinamool Congress. The political maelstrom that has broken out over Sandeshkhali, a tiny village in North 24 Parganas district, virtually divests the ruling party in West Bengal of any claims of being a party committed to rule of law and gender justice – a dark irony indeed for a party which runs on the popular slogan of ‘Ma, Maati, Manush’. This trope appears farcical in the face of testimonies of local women who have come out describing how men allegedly protected by the local Trinamool Congress strongman Sheikh Shahjahan and his aides Uttam Sardar and Shibaprasad Hazra have been sexually exploiting them for years.

A particularly explicit video depicts a local woman protestor describing how these men would pick them out and force them to come to the Trinamool Congress party office where they would be sexually assaulted. This went on alongside widespread incidents of land grab allegedly aided by local Trinamool Congress henchmen led by Shahjahan Sheikh. The party brass clearly looked the other way as these men usurped arable land from the common people and converted them into prawn farms. The spoils of this lucrative land grab were shared among the goons for years.

What lifted the lid from this can of worms was an Enforcement Directorate (ED) raid on Sheikh Shahjahan on January 5 during which the ED officials were violently attacked. While Sheikh has been absconding since, it emboldened the local women to come out in large numbers to accuse him and his men of usurping their land and sexually exploiting them for years. These accusations sparked protests and tensions escalated when villagers carrying sticks and bamboo canes set Uttam Sardar’s poultry farms in fire. The properties of the other man under fire, Shibaprasad Hazra, were also set ablaze. A large number of women have taken to the streets demanding the arrest of Sheikh Shahjahan and his aides.

That the BJP might have seized upon it for political advantage before the general elections can be no excuse to brush this off as mere political rabble-rousing. The harbouring and protection of men like Sheikh Shahjahan clearly speaks of a systemic perversion. The fact is that neither has the Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee come out with a strong condemnation of the sordid episode nor have the police arrested Sheikh Shahjahan so far. It is unfortunate that such brazen abuse of power and exploitation of women should happen under the watch of a woman Chief Minister. Instead of crying political vendetta, the urgent need is for the State Government to restore the public’s faith by bringing the guilty to justice and restore usurped land to its rightful owners in Sandeshkhali.