Calcutta, Feb. 4: Roma Jhawar had moved some 50 metres in the family's Indica from her home in Salt Lake when another car sped up from behind, overtook her vehicle and stopped, blocking the way. Within minutes, she was snatched at gunpoint and whisked away in the off-white Maruti Omni at 8.15 in the morning.
After 10-15 minutes, the ransom call came to the Jhawar residence at CB 68, a stone's throw from home secretary Amit Kiran Deb's house.
'I hope Bengal doesn't turn into another Bihar,' said Satya Narayan Jhawar, Roma's father, hit with a Rs 50-lakh ransom demand.
Jhawar has a cloth dyeing and hosiery business in Howrah.
Roma left home with her 4-year-old nephew Vedant and classmate Sabari Mitra for her college, Srimati J.D. Birla Institute, on Lower Rawdon Street in central Calcutta, in the ash-coloured Indica, with Sukumar Mondal, the family's driver, behind the wheel.
As the car was turning at the traffic island near their house, four of the kidnappers leapt out of the van that blocked the Indica's way. Two of the men carried guns.
Mondal said the fifth man sat at the steering wheel. 'Two of them came running towards the left-hand side of the car, where Roma was sitting with Vedant in the seat next to me, brandished their revolvers and asked her to step out. Two others stood close by.'
One man opened the door, which was not locked, grabbed Roma by her hand and pulled her out. Another went over to the left door at the rear where Sabari was sitting, handed the young boy to her and barked out: 'Gadi khali kar do, bachche ko leke chale jao.'
Sabari ran with Vedant. As she fled towards CB 68, she heard Roma screaming for help as two of the other abductors lent a hand to their colleagues in dragging her into the Omni. None of the kidnappers, believed to be in their mid-twenties, had his face covered.
The Jhawars denied having received a ransom demand. But both Ajay Prasad, director-general of police, and deputy inspector-general of police (presidency range) H.P. Singh confirmed the abductors had called up Roma's sister-in-law Sumita, using the kidnapped 20-year-old's mobile phone to demand a Rs 50-lakh ransom.
'When Sumita pleaded helplessness in meeting the demand, they immediately pared it down to Rs 5 lakh,' said a source, adding that the hurried slashing of the ransom has prompted detectives to look at gangs new in the business.
Records with the mobile phone company showed the ransom call had emanated from the Beliaghata area where the abductors either have a hideout or changed their car for onward journey to a safer destination.
'It's a serious incident,' said Prasad. 'We are requesting eyewitnesses or anyone having any information on the incident to help us. Just call telephone number 100. Also, anyone who finds an off-white Maruti Omni lying abandoned anywhere should inform us.'
Roma's father said: 'I appeal to the chief minister with folded hands to restore my daughter to me. Please join me in prayers for Roma's well-being.'
The Jhawars moved to the rented Salt Lake house about eight years ago. It was a shaken Sabari, holding Vedant in her arms, who informed the family of the kidnapping. She then walked back to her home close by and broke down while narrating the incident to her father Shantanu Mitra.
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee ordered a widening of the investigation by bringing the criminal investigation department into the picture, in addition to Calcutta and North 24-Parganas district police.