Durgapur, Sept. 15: A mob torched 16 trucks and stoned police for an hour in Durgapur today in a frenzy to hand out street justice after a lorry ran over a 38-year-old motorbike rider.
The crowd of bystanders swelled to about a thousand in minutes, stopped one truck after another, smashed their windscreens and set them all on fire, scripting possibly the biggest street arson in Bengal triggered by a single accident.
The violence comes amid countrywide instances of mobs taking the law in their own hands, with an entire village burnt down in Madhya Pradesh after a murder, and lynching and blinding of alleged thieves in Bihar. Parents have rioted on Delhi’s streets and tried to attack a schoolteacher who was falsely accused of filming drugged and naked students.
Most of those who rioted on the Raturia-Angadpur road in Durgapur were supporters of CPM youth wing DYFI, which was holding a rally half a kilometre from the spot.
The lorry had lost control while avoiding a pothole and hit Durgapur Chemicals employee Partha Burman’s motorbike. Burman, who wasn’t wearing a helmet, fell in front of the truck’s wheels which crushed his head.
A group of youths who watched the 3pm accident from their club ran onto the road and stopped the truck but its driver and helper escaped. The mob, growing by the minute, halted 15 other trucks, most of them headed for nearby steel and iron foundries.
With no policemen present at the spot, 1km from the Coke Oven police station, the mob doused the trucks with petrol and set them on fire.
“In my long career, I have never heard of 16 trucks being torched together in Bengal,” said Durgapur circle inspector Pannalal Goswami, who will retire this year-end.
As the news spread, hundreds arrived from the DYFI meeting, where Burman was apparently headed, and began demonstrating with the body.
The police, who reached the scene at 3.30pm, were beaten back but returned with reinforcements from the Durgapur and New Township police stations. A baton-charge broke up the mob for a while and the body was sent for a post-mortem, but soon another round of stoning followed.
“When the police arrived half an hour after the accident, the mob grew angrier,” said resident Jayanta Rudidas.
“Potholes develop on the road during the rains, putting two-wheeler riders in grave danger,” said resident Sanjay Biswas. Many blame the spurt in mob violence on a growing feeling among ordinary people that the authorities are too indifferent and the police too corrupt to provide them justice.