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CBI FIR: Mob of 100+ ransacked homes, set ablaze houses to kill families

The Calcutta High Court asked the CBI to submit a status report on the Rampurhat violence after which the agency's team reached Bogtui

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An violent mob of more than 100 workers of a faction of the stormed into Bogtui village within an hour of their party leader Bhadu Sheikh’s murder on 21 March. While the seven-page first information report (FIR) filed by the Rampurhat that night, when eight people were burned to death in the village in West Bengal’s Birbhum district, does not mention the perpetrators’ religion or political organisation, this is the feedback from locals.

By the order of the Calcutta High Court, the case in now under the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI). The CBI filed an FIR based on the Rampurhat report on 25 March. 

Sub-inspector (SI) Dhrubajyoti Pramanik, whom Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee suspended for alleged failure to perform his duties, wrote the FIR. It states that at about 9:35 PM, the officer on duty at the Rampurhat Station, SI Ramesh Saha, informed Pramanik that some houses in Bogtui had caught fire. 

“We found that eight houses and some straw heaps had caught devastating fire. I immediately called back Ramesh Saha and asked him to promptly inform the fire brigade personnel to rush to the spot. After that, myself and my son tried our level best to douse the fire with the help of local people, but failed,” Pramanik states in the FIR.

Two fire tenders then reached the spot at 10:25 PM and rescued four people with burn injuries. They were rushed to Rampurhat Hospital with the help of locals and relatives, according to the FIR.

“The fire was anyhow brought under control at 2 AM. The fire brigade left the spot after the fire was more or less doused. Due to immense heat, it was not possible to get into those burnt houses at that time,” states the FIR. 

At 7:10 AM, the fire brigade personnel returned to the village and joined the search operations, according to the FIR.

The FIR says that an “unruly mob ransacked the houses of eight persons and set fire to the houses with a view to kill the persons inside and their family.”

The eight burnt homes included the houses of a set of five brothers: (i) Mihilal Sheikh, (ii) Seklal Sheikh, (iii) Bani Sheikh, (iv) Neklal Sheikh, and (v) Minarul Sheikh. Two more belonged to another pair of brothers, (vi) Sona Sheikh and (vii) Fatik Sheikh, and the last was owned by (viii) Mobina Bibi. 

Ummati, Sona Sheikh’s neighbour in Bogtui, said, “Bhadu and Sona were close associates. They used to work together; they were almost brothers. Bhadu even helped Sona build his house. It’s been just over a year since the construction was completed.” 

Public Prosecutor Surajit Sinha said, “Bhadu, Sona, Palash were all associates. They used to make money on the side from sand tractors and sand quarries. The case is one of personal enmity over money between the three, which led to this gruesome violence.”

Sona Sheikh was one of the seven people listed as having been found burned to death, with his house ransacked and set ablaze. (One more person succumbed in hospital, taking the toll to eight.) But Palash was named in the FIR filed in Bhadu Sheikh’s murder, and his whereabouts are unknown.

The have also stated in the FIR that the seven bodies recovered from the debris were beyond recognition. Their post-mortems were conducted at Rampurhat Hospital and videographed, according to the state’s submission before the Calcutta High Court on 24 March. 

The have seized a number of burnt objects from the houses, including straw, utensils, books, a chair, and partially burnt bamboos, as well as some pieces of broken glass, and a black suit.

This morning, a CBI team reached Bogtui and collected evidence. The Calcutta High Court had earlier asked the central agency to submit a status report on 7 April.

Sinha, who is also a resident of Rampurhat by birth — now representing the state — called the incident “the most gruesome crime Rampurhat has ever witnessed” while arguing before a local court. 

“Since my birth and probably even before that, Bogtui was known for violence. Everyone in Rampurhat knew, even children over there carry guns in their pockets. No one dares to go to Bogtui or take a risk with any of its residents,” he said. 

When asked about Bhadu Sheikh’s influence in the area, Sinha said, “Bhadu was the deputy chief of Barshal gram panchayat. He had two close aides, Palash and Sona. Apart from lending money to other villagers and charging heavy interest, they would also collect money from sand quarries and tractors that would transport the sand in this area.

“That money used to be shared among the three, which is where the enmity cropped up. Bhadu used to decide who got how much money, and he therefore became a target.”

Bhadu Sheikh had two homes in Bogtui. While he built a one-storey house within the village, a well-built, two storey, white-and-blue second house is situated near the entryway to the village, two minutes’ walk from the National Highway where he was murdered with crude bombs.

In this home, Bhadu Sheikh also had a garage shop where electronic items such as pedestal fans, coolers, and fridges were sold. His home is ten steps away from the residence of the sub divisional officer, who has also been suspended by Mamata Banerjee for allegedly not carrying out his duties. 

Bogtui is a large village divided into eastern and western areas, with a population of about 5,000 according to the 2011 census. Crime is a regular occurrence, but the village had never been witness to such a gruesome incident until last week, according to Sinha.

Sinha said, “The people of the east get married in the west and vice versa. Since this is a close-knit village, somehow everyone is related to someone in the village. Property disputes, land disputes, ponds and fields have been at the centre of all the trouble. So, when matters go out of control, blood kills blood. And that’s the crux of Bhadu Sheikh’s murder.”

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