Days after the Birbhum massacre that claimed the lives of nine people, the Calcutta High Court on Friday ordered a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) probe into the incident.
The high court even directed the SIT team formed by the state government to handover case papers alongwith arrested accused persons to the central agency in the interest of speedy justice to the aggrieved families.
Earlier this week, on Tuesday, eight adults (mostly women) and a 7-year-old girl were charred to death at Bogtui village, in a revenge witch hunt for the murder of Trinamool Congress' block level leader Bhadu Sheikh, a 38-year-old businessman. Sheikh was allegedly involved in extortion of money from illegal sand, stone and coal trade in Birbhum district, which lies close to the Jharkhand border.
The carnage wiped out almost the entire family of Mihilal Sheikh, a resident of Bogtui. Mihilal is a relative of Sona Sheikh, a former business partner of Bhadu. The rift between the former business associates, many believe, led to Bhadu's murder, which his supporters wanted to avenge. BOOM found out the names of the victims.
Sheli Bibi (32), Tuli Khatun (7), Noor Nehar Bibi (75), Rupali Bibi (44), Jahan Ara Bibi (38), Lili Khatun (18) Kazi Sajidur Rahman (22), Mina Bibi (40) and Ata Bibi.
What happened on the night of March 21?
Bogtui, a village with a population of around 5000, witnessed Bhadu Sheikh's murder by bike-borne assailants, who shot him at the Bogtui crossing. He was taken to hospital, where he was declared dead.
Within an hour of Bhadu's murder hundreds of people on bikes reached Bogtui, bombing on their way to the residence of those individuals, whom they thought were involved in the murder.
Mihilal, who used to run a grocery shop at his house, had seen the bikers approaching their house. Presuming that they would be attacked, he along with his brother decided to run away from their home. They thought that the women would be spared.
"We thought they will not do anything to the women and children. But it was our mistake. We sent them to Sona Sheikh's house, which was made of concrete and locked it from outside. But they cut the iron rod and entered the house before burning it along with ours," said Mihilal.
Mihilal and Banirul, two brothers, survived the carnage. They are now staying in another village, around 35-kms from Bogtui.
Along with Mihilal and Sona Sheikh, a 100-strong mob also burnt six other houses in the village.
"It was a revenge attack for the murder of Bhadu Sheikh, deputy chief of the Trinamul-run local gram panchayat, a 'known extortionist' with a strong link to the police and block-level leader Anarul," said Ajim SK, a local reporter.
It is believed that 11 people were brutally murdered in one of the most heinous crimes that took place in recent memory in Bengal. While the deaths of eight individuals including six women, a girl and a newly married man have been confirmed by the Rampurhat police officials itself, two male children, aged 4 and 6, have been reported missing since their houses were bombed and burnt.
A woman who was critical after getting burnt severely succumbed to injuries on Friday. Nine people were killed in the 'burning to death incident'.
Some fake news is circulating that Hindu or Tribal people have been murdered. However, according to official records, all the victims are Muslims.
At the core of the brutal murder was the rivalry born out of illegal trade that now flourishes in Birbhum.
One of the important districts of West Bengal, Birbhum is located at the bordering districts of Jharkhand's Santhal Pargana. The eastern portion of Birbhum is a continuation of the rice plain of Bengal. The district also is well-drained by several rivers. Illegal sand and stone transportation are prevalent in the area. And being on the border of Jharkhand, coal transportation is another illegal work done through the district.
Bhadu was allegedly one of the main beneficiaries of the illegal transportation of sand etc. He used to extort money from them. His brother Babur Sheikh was also a part of this arrangement. He was killed a year ago. A case was filed and some arrests were also made.
Arresting of TMC leader and others
On Thursday, Birbhum Police arrested the prime accused in the Birbhum massacre, Anarul Hossain. But the arrest of Trinamool Congress' block president on the third day of the carnage could only be done after chief minister Mamata Banerjee met the kin of the victims in Bogtui village, Birbhum and ordered the Director-General of Police to arrest the party's block-level leader.
Birbhum police that listed 22 names as accused in its FIR had not mentioned Anarul's name for his alleged role in the carnage. Mihilal told the chief minister about Anarul's involvement. Mamata Banerjee, who happens to be the Home Minister of Bengal as well, ordered his immediate arrest.
Sixty-one-year-old Anarul Hossain is the block president of the TMC. A resident of Sandipur, Rampurhat, Anarul was a mason before entering into politics. Because of his organizational skill, he became close with several TMC leaders in the Birbhum district.
It has been alleged that Anarul, who was Bhadu Sheikh's partner, planned the incident and thereafter did not allow police to enter the village.
During the CM's visit, she handed over a compensation of Rs 5 lakhs to the families of the deceased and Rs 2 lakhs, to whose houses that were set ablaze. She assured that the culprits would be punished including police officers for 'negligence of duty.'
Soon after the massacre, Banerjee suspended OC (officer in-charge) as well as SDPO (sub-divisional police officer). She informed that the IC (circle inspector) of Rampurhat PS Tridip Pramanik has also been suspended.
The Birbhum massacre has been termed as the worst incident since the TMC came to power in Bengal; it has raised serious questions on the nexus of police with local ruling party leaders in the state.
Role of Police
The villagers of Bogtui, and nearby areas, are not only shocked about the incident but also unanimous on one thing if the police would have acted on it, lives could have been saved.
"Rampurhat police station is only one kilometre away from Bogtui and the police can reach the spot within five minutes, but it did not. Moreover, the bungalow of SDPO is so close to the houses that eight of the family burnt to death could be seen from his residence. In the bungalow, at least a dozen policemen remain deployed all the time, but they did nothing when the incident took place," Sabir Sheikh, a resident of Bogtui told BOOM.
Mihilal Sheikh, whose eight family members were charred to death, said that the police were mute spectators to the entire incident even though the fire brigade was held back at the order of Anarul Hossain.
The police reached the spot only on Wednesday morning, a day after the people were killed and burnt alive.
Police officials, meanwhile, are being tight-lipped on the carnage and the alleged politicians-police nexus which led to the incident.
When contacted, the newly appointed SDPO Dhiman Mitra told this reporter to talk to the Superintendent of Police, Birbhum. But SP NN Tripathi refused to speak saying he is busy with "something important".
Visit by opposition leaders
Most of the opposition party leaders from CPM, BJP and Congress visited Bogtui. While CPM's new state secretary Mohammed Salim was the first to reach the village. He reached the spot by riding pillion rider. BJP leaders led by opposition leader Suvendu Adhikari used an AC bus to reach the spot.
Congress leader Adhir Ranjan Choudhuri, who chose the same day and the almost same time to reach Bogtui when Mamata Banerjee was there, was stopped by the police and had sat on dharna. Later, the Congress leader was allowed to go to Bogtui.
Meanwhile, during her visit, the CM also ordered the protection of the victim families and villagers. They were so fearful that only when the District Magistrate of Birbhum went to bring them to meet the chief minister, they came and returned as soon as the CM left, said Sabir.
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