Prayagraj: Priyanka Gandhi extends support to boatmen “harassed” by local police

Congress general secretary Priyanka Gandhi met the boatmen and fishermen Nishad community in Prayagraj’s Banswar village on Sunday and extended her support to the victims of alleged administrative and police brutality earlier this month.

This was her second visit to Prayagraj, after she visited the district last week and took a dip at Sangam on Mauni Amavasya as well as performed a puja. During her boat ride on the Ganga, she was informed by her boatman Sujit Nishad about an episode that took place on February 4 in Prayagraj when police had cracked down on the boatmen of Banswar on the tip that they were digging sand – an activity deemed illegal by the National Green Tribunal. According to the people, the police had also destroyed boats of the villagers and roughed them up while first information reports were lodged against at least 15 people.

“I am also a woman like you all. I understand what you are going through. If you have been beaten up here, then the administration and government should hang their heads in shame,” said Gandhi Vadra, promising the villagers to “stand by them and raise the issue with sincerity”.

Nishad had requested Gandhi Vadra to raise the issue facing the community, whose primary profession of digging up sand from the river bed has been thrown out of gear after the state’s move to ban unlicensed mining in 2018 following the National Green Tribunal’s order in 2013 prohibiting illegal sand mining across the country. The ban incensed the community, which accounts for about 15% of eastern UP’s population and holds sway over more than 150 assembly seats in the state.

The Congress leader’s visit comes even as she has been holding farmer assemblies in the Jat and Muslim-dominated western UP over the farm laws, a bid to capitalise on the resentment of the community which has voted for the BJP since 2013.

Samajwadi Party chief Akhilesh Yadav too had spoken on behalf of the Nishad community soon after the episode, slamming the BJP for robbing the community of its livelihood.

Piyush Ranjan Nishad, 2017 BJP assembly election candidate from Karchchana, told ET that he had taken a group of aggrieved persons from the village to meet chief minister Yogi Adityanath on February 9 and requested him for a permanent solution to the problem. “We had asked him to come up with a solution so that the community is also assured that the party which they supported cares about them, and the CM gave us his complete assurance and also told us that those whose boats were destroyed will be paid for damages. In fact, the CM even asked for the destroyed boats to be repaired and said action will be taken against the officers responsible for the brutalities,” Nishad said, adding that the way the opposition parties are speaking now clearly smacks of a political agenda.

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