Calcutta, Sept. 26: A 40-year-old lady was killed when a bomb delivered inside an everyday symbol of a courier-delivered parcel exploded on her bed in Howrah’s Shibpur today.
Chaitali Santra was thrown several feet by its impact, hit a wall and fell. The doors and windows of her house were blown off and the walls developed cracks. So severe was the blast that neighbours 500 metres away could hear it.
Her 48-year-old husband Himangshu, who was in an adjoining room, is in hospital with 80 per cent burns. Their help, Madhumita Manna, was on the first floor of the two-storey house and is safe.
Chaitali worked as a freelance reporter for a Delhi-based crime weekly called Julm Se Jung (War Against Injustice). Her last report, filed in June, was on the murder of a young man in Howrah’s Domjur in December 2011.
“Preliminary investigations have revealed that the explosive was stuffed inside a steel container. A disfigured and burnt steel container has been recovered from the spot,” said Nishat Pervez, Howrah’s deputy commissioner, headquarters.
Madhumita heard the explosion minutes after she alerted Chaitali about the deliveryman and went upstairs. “I heard the calling bell around 1.45pm and a man shouting ‘parcel achhe’. I alerted Chaitali and saw her heading to the door. I didn’t see the deliveryman,” Madhumita told this newspaper.
“It was a very loud sound. The entire staircase was filled with smoke, blocking visibility. I slowly came down after a few minutes only to see dada covered in soot. He was bleeding all over.”
Police officer Pervez said the role of the courier has yet to be verified. Most of the parcel details, such as the receipt and other papers, have apparently been destroyed.
At a time people across the city have begun shopping online and receiving parcels regularly, the blast is a rude awakening to a new killer. The police said it was best not to accept parcels from strangers and unexpected senders (see Metro).
Neighbours said Himangshu had run out of the house screaming for help. “I was having lunch with my wife and grandson when we heard the explosion. We rushed out to see Himangshu screaming outside his home. He was bleeding profusely,” said Haradhan Seth, who lives barely 100 feet from the Santra home.
The couple’s only daughter, Shatabdi, a first-year student of Ashutosh College in south Calcutta, had gone for tuitions to Santoshpur when the blast took place.
“Ma had called at 1.36pm asking for my whereabouts. Around 2.09pm, someone from the neighbourhood called to tell me about the blast,” Shatabdi said.
An official of Julm Se Jung said in Delhi that Chaitali “was working as a freelancer with the magazine”. She refused to divulge how long the association had been.
According to the magazine website, Julm Se Jung was founded in 1997 “so that young people interested in journalism could receive practical, on-the-job training and, in the process, provide Delhi’s Hindi-speaking public with a local newspaper”.
“I have no idea why this happened. But my mother often used to mention that several people were after her life,” Chaitali’s daughter said.
Himangshu was driven to Westbank hospital by the neighbours. “It was only in the car that he said his wife was dead,” said Sanjay Bhuniya, another neighbour.
Apart from the police, a CID team and forensic experts went to the spot. Two cell phones, one of which was half burnt, four pencil batteries, some wire and a steel container have been seized.
In April 2011, a “parcel bomb” had killed a schoolteacher in Malda. Explosives stuffed inside a cavity created in a thick book had been parcelled to the woman’s house. The bomb, prepared with “pressure release” mechanism, had gone off the moment she opened the book.
The police have yet to ascertain the nature or composition of the bomb that exploded at the Santra home.
“The nature of the explosive has not been ascertained yet. But there were no splinter injuries on the victim,” said an officer.