A woman travelling alone in an AC two-tier coach of the Howrah-bound Amritsar Mail woke up with a start past midnight on Sunday to find a stranger sharing her berth and blanket.
Soma Mukherjee, a 47-year-old project director with a Lucknow-based NGO, screamed loud enough for the ticket examiner and the coach attendant to come running, but neither allegedly made any attempt to stop the intruder from escaping.
“I would have chased the man in dark trousers and a fawn-coloured shirt myself had I not been so shocked. What made it more disgusting was the utter lack of effort by the ticket examiner and the coach attendant to catch the culprit. The attendant was on the side-lower berth, just opposite to our coupe, and could have easily gone after him,” Soma, whose family stays in Narendrapur, said.
Soma lodged an official complaint after the train pulled into Howrah station at 11.30am on Monday. She sought an inquiry into the incident, saying the railway staff and her co-passengers on the train let her down in her moment of distress.
According to Soma, the incident occurred around 2am, when the Amritsar Mail was approaching Patna railway station. “I was in the first coupe of the A1 compartment. After dinner, I fell asleep in my assigned berth (lower) with my head towards the window, little knowing that a stranger would slip under my blanket unnoticed in a coach that is supposed to be out of bounds for anyone without a ticket,” she recounted to Metro.
Soma woke up when she felt her feet touch something. She lifted her head from the pillow to check what it was and found “a head peeping out of my blanket”. The 47-year-old screamed, prompting the stranger to jump off the berth like a cat startled out of its slumber.
In the dim light of the coach, Soma could make out that the intruder was a man in his thirties of “stout build”. He ran towards the vestibule even as the coach attendant, who had by then got up from his berth, allegedly stood in the aisle watching.
Soma said she didn’t sleep a wink after the incident. “I was trembling. I kept staring at the gap between the curtains, half fearing that the man would reappear anytime,” she said.
Around 4am, Soma texted husband Ujjwal, a doctor in Calcutta, and her brother to inform them about the incident.
“It wasn’t until after 10 in the morning that I recovered enough to demand that the ticket examiner give me the complaint book. The train was then approaching Burdwan station,” Soma said.
A second ticket examiner arrived soon after and asked Soma why she wanted the complaint book. “I didn’t bother to explain. I was so angry with the railway staff for their inaction that I told him I would report the incident directly to the railway police,” she said.
The ticket examiner claimed that the complaint book was with the train guard and he would be able to give it to her only after the Amritsar Mail reached Howrah station. Soma, whose profession requires her to frequently travel by train, didn’t argue with him.
When the train reached Howrah station, the second ticket examiner escorted Soma to the Government Railway Police office, where she lodged a complaint.
Husband Ujjwal was at the station to receive her.
Milan Kanti Das, the superintendent of railway police in Howrah, said the complaint would be forwarded to the Patna GRP as the incident occurred under its jurisdiction.
A spokesperson for Eastern Railway said an inquiry was underway.
The rule-book stipulates that vestibule shutters in reserved compartments should be downed at 9pm and not reopened until dawn.
Armed Railway Protection Force personnel are required to check every coach of night trains at regular intervals.
Soma said she didn’t see a single guard.