A 38-year-old man with mild dementia and impaired speech was jailed for 12 days without any legal assistance or a chance to contact his family after being caught boarding a ladies-only train.
While Biswanath Dutta, who works as a cleaner at KFC’s Kasba outlet, counted the hours at Presidency jail, his parents almost gave up hope of finding him after repeated visits to police stations and Government Railway Police and Railway Protection Force offices didn’t yield a clue to his whereabouts.
A call on Monday from a relative who had spotted Biswanath at Naihati railway station led to him being reunited with his parents and blew the lid off how a group of men in uniform exploited the 38-year-old’s inability to bribe or talk his way out of trouble.
“I had never felt so helpless. When the police took me to the lock-up at Sealdah station, I said I wanted to call my parents. They refused. I don’t own a mobile phone and there was no way I could have contacted them without the police’s help,” recounted Biswanath, caught travelling on the Ranaghat-Sealdah ladies’ special on the morning of November 2.
A man boarding a ladies-only train is liable to be fined Rs 500 under Section 162 of The Railways Act, 1989. The offender can be arrested if he fails to pay, though the act does not specify the length of imprisonment. The onus is on the magistrate hearing the case to fix the term.
The cops who had arrested Biswanath — he couldn’t say whether they were GRP or RPF personnel — allegedly asked for Rs 600 to set him free. When they found only Rs 70 in his pocket, they allegedly took the money and put him behind bars on the charge of illegally boarding a train.
Biswanath, whose medical condition was caused by an accident when he was eight, admitted to knowingly boarding the ladies-only train because he was in a hurry to reach his workplace from Halisahar in North 24-Parganas.
“I was in the vendors’ coach. When the train reached Sealdah around 9.30am, some policemen caught five of us,” he recalled.
The 38-year-old, partially incoherent, said he was unable to explain his condition to the cops. They did take him to a doctor, who allegedly certified him fit.
Around 2pm, the cops walked him to Sealdah court with a rope around his waist. The magistrate remanded him in judicial custody for 11 days.
Biswanath’s parents Ranjit and Mayarani Dutta came to know that their son was in trouble when he didn’t return home that night. Ranjit contacted Nepal Biswas, who is Biswanath’s supervisor in a housekeeping agency contracted by KFC, and was told that his son didn’t turn up for work on November 2.
Ranjit went to KFC’s Kasba outlet the next day to confirm Biswas’s statement. He then lodged a complaint with Kasba police station.
“I feared something bad had happened to my son, maybe he had even been abducted,” said Ranjit, who is a hawker on suburban trains.
Officers at Kasba police station said they immediately informed all police stations in Calcutta and the districts along with the railway police that Biswanath had gone missing on the way from Halisahar to Sealdah. Railway police said they started a search based on that complaint.
So why did they fail to locate someone who was all along in RPF and jail custody?
On November 4, Ranjit and Mayarani visited GRP and RPF offices at all major stations between Halisahar and Sealdah to find out if Biswanath had been taken to any of these places. “We were advised to visit hospitals instead,” Ranjit recalled.
On November 7, the parents filed a complaint each with Lalbazar and Bijpur police station. Just when the couple were bracing for the worst, glad tidings came from a relative on Monday: Biswanath had been spotted at Naihati railway station, on his way back home to Halisahar.
The relative thought a gang of traffickers was with Biswanath, so he didn’t approach the young man.
Biswanath had been produced in court earlier in the day and the police apparently didn’t ask for an extension of his remand.
He went back to the RPF office at Sealdah station on being freed to collect his bag, which contained Rs 6. “A constable gave me another Rs 2 and I bought a ticket till Naihati with the money,” he said, eyes welling up.
While Biswanath’s arrest was valid, couldn’t the railway police have allowed him to contact his family? “Generally, family members are not informed if someone is arrested in a petty case, unless the person insists,” an RPF officer.
But police officers said it was necessary to contact the family of a person arrested for an alleged crime.
No senior RPF officer was available for an “official comment”. Repeated calls to S.C. Sahu, the chief security commissioner of the RPF (Eastern Railway) went unanswered.