Calcutta, Aug. 22: Chandrima Das apparently slapped her son Sanjay when he told her why he was remaining cooped up at home and not ferrying auto-rickshaw passengers.
The response had been diametrically different when Sanjay confided in his union leaders that he had hauled a four-year-girl along the road. It would emerge later that the girl, Adrika Ghoshal, had suffered fractures. Sanjay was accused of not only refusing to stop the auto but also fleeing after Adrika’s mother forced him to slow down and got off the vehicle to save her daughter.
“Aamra shamle nebo.” The leaders, belonging to a Trinamul union, had promised that they would take care of the situation and no one could touch him, according to accounts The Telegraph collated from multiple sources in the neighbourhood.
Another disturbing factor was thrown up: probably because of the abysmal state of public transport, some passengers demand that autos break rules and ferry them. The driver also said other passengers advised him to keep driving — a claim that could not be corroborated but is not implausible in a city known for mob violence.
“I did not teach him to be so insensitive, to leave a bleeding child behind and run away. I had always asked him to drive carefully. He is a good boy but today everybody is treating him like a criminal,” Chandrima said, wiping tears.
She was sitting close to her son on the bed at their two-room thatched house at Harakumar Tagore Strand in Baranagar. Yesterday, Sanjay came home after being granted bail.
Sanjay, 24, is the youngest of Chandrima’s four sons. Her husband runs a rickshaw van. “He (Sanjay) is the most well-mannered of all my sons. I could not afford his education after Class III but tried to make sure that he became a good human being,” she said.
According to Sanjay as well as the other sources, he was assured by his leaders that a few days at home and that would be it. “Nothing would happen to me, they said,” Sanjay said.
For him, it meant a guarantee against possible arrest and he killed time sleeping and watching TV at home. It was then that Chandrima wondered why her son was not stepping out of home.
Eventually, minutes before he was arrested, Sanjay narrated to his mother what he had done last Thursday.
“My mother slapped me and then she started crying when I told her the police had come to the auto stand looking for me,” Sanjay said today.
Auto drivers on his route said they paid Rs 110 a month to the Trinamul auto union as protection money. And the police seldom prosecuted them.
After the accident, a colleague advised Sanjay to go into hiding. He spent the day in a deserted alley near the Hooghly riverbank. Then the leaders stepped in.
“I was not even sure if the child was alive. But then I received a phone call from one of the union leaders who asked me to stay home for the next few days and not drive my auto. He told me that the girl was alive and that the union would make sure that the girl’s family does not lodge a complaint,” said Sanjay, who used to work as a grille mechanic for over 10 years before switching to driving autos.
Assured by the leaders, Sanjay parked the vehicle in the garage and returned home within an hour. He stayed home till Monday morning, after which his leaders called him to the auto stand and handed him over to the police.
The leaders had met Adrika’s father on Friday and tried to pressure him to withdraw the complaint. “It is a mistake by a young boy,” one of them had said.
If Sanjay’s version is true, the other passengers advised him to drive on. “I was about to get down but the man sitting next to me said ‘bekaar jhamelaay phense jaabi (you will be in trouble for nothing)’ and asked me to move on,” he claimed.
Two other women were in the auto — a young woman and a mother and child. According to Sanjay, all of them wanted him to get away from the spot.
“I waited for a moment but then I saw a group of men screaming and running towards my auto and the passengers insisted that I move. My hands were shivering and I stopped my auto at the next alley and asked the passengers to get off,” the driver said.
The Telegraph was unable to contact the other passengers to verify his version.
However, what this reporter saw this afternoon on the same route — Sinthee-Kuthighat in north Calcutta —was hardly reassuring. Many passengers today blamed the accident for restrictions now being imposed on autos.
They were angry that no more than four passengers were being allowed and that drivers were asking them to seat children above three years, instead of carrying them on their laps.
“It is all for that lady (Adrika’s mother),” a woman fumed while boarding an auto. Another passenger was upset because she would have to pay for her son’s ride. Carrying him on the lap would have allowed two persons to travel for the price of one.
An auto driver said they were implementing the guidelines set by transport minister Madan Mitra yesterday. “But the passengers are refusing to listen.”
“Yesterday, a group of passengers had blocked a road on the Sinthee-Kuthighat route for half an hour protesting why more passengers were not being allowed on autos. The four-per-vehicle rule means a longer wait for them in the queue,” said Ranjit Das, a Trinamul auto union leader.
Sanjay’s brother, who did not wish to be named, said: “I know my brother was wrong in fleeing but if he has to be punished, the union leaders and the passengers who egged him to move on should also share the blame.”