Eastern Railway has started an inquiry into how Biswanath Dutta, a 38-year-old man with mild dementia and impaired speech, was arrested for boarding a ladies-only train and jailed for 11 nights while his family remained in the dark despite lodging two missing-person complaints.
“I have asked an officer of the rank of assistant commandant of the RPF (Railway Protection Force) to conduct an inquiry into the incident and file a report as early as possible. If anyone is found guilty, we will take strict action against the person/persons,” promised Rakesh Mishra, the senior divisional security commandant of Eastern Railway, after Metro highlighted Biswanath’s plight on Wednesday.
Biswanath, a cleaner employed with a housekeeping agency contracted by KFC for its Kasba outlet, had boarded the Ranaghat-Sealdah Ladies’ Special on November 2 on his way to work from his home in Halisahar, about 60km from the heart of Calcutta.
He was caught alighting from the train at Sealdah and arrested when he was unable to pay the bribe of Rs 600 allegedly demanded by an unidentified cop. Biswanath spent the next 11 nights in Presidency jail without his parents having a clue to his whereabouts despite visiting two police stations, several railway police offices and even the CID headquarters.
He was freed on Monday after a second appearance in court but the trauma of spending time in jail might take a long time to heal.
“My son cannot walk properly since he returned on Monday night. He is also unable to sleep. Last night, he kept crying, holding me tight and asking if someone would beat him up again,” said mother Mayarani, who had given up hope of seeing her son alive when the police failed to “trace” him for 11 days.
Biswanath, who can make himself understood despite his occasional incoherence and tendency to lose the thread of the topic, recounts to Metro how he was allegedly assaulted and abused by the staff and inmates of Bengal’s largest “correctional home” during his 11 nights there.
Before November 2, I had been to a police station only once — to report the loss of my mobile phone. I had never been to a courtroom.
When I was dragged to the Sealdah court, put in a prison van with thieves and murderers and taken to Presidency jail, I cursed myself for my inability to remember my father’s phone number. I also couldn’t understand why the policemen wouldn’t allow me to check the number written in a diary in my bag. My parents would have come to my rescue had I been allowed to call home once.
I was kept in a small cell with four other prisoners on the first night. My problems in jail began the next day when I was shifted to a larger cell that I had to share with 87 other people for the next 10 days.
The prisoners were huddled in small groups and the moment I entered the cell, a few of them asked me what my profession was. When I said that I worked as a cleaner at KFC, they laughed and declared that I had to clean the cell (around 3,000sq ft). I protested and they slapped me. They said that was the jail rule.
From the next day, apart from cleaning the cell, the men asked me to join two other inmates in the task of washing their dishes and other utensils.
I dared not protest fearing further abuse. However, even my silence was not enough to save me. Every night I was physically abused by several inmates and was not allowed to sleep in peace. Once they were through with the abuse, they would ask me to massage their bodies. I refused at times, only to give in to their demands for fear of being assaulted.
A jail employee was also very cruel. Once I was late by five minutes in returning to my cell after watering the jail garden when the policeman guarding our cell on the second floor stopped me. He beat me with a stick and kicked me in the stomach. I pleaded with him to stop. He wouldn’t listen. I then told him about my condition (dementia), at which he grabbed my collar and started slapping the back of my head. From that day onwards, he would slap me on the head the moment he spotted me.
Some inmates in the cell had all the means of entertainment at their disposal, including a television, mobile phones and music players. Those with phones allowed other inmates to call their families for Rs 5 a minute. But I neither had money nor could recall any mobile number to call.
Some people inside the cell were nice to me. I remember an elderly person from Dum Dum who used to patiently listen to what I wanted to say and sometimes give me a shoulder massage after a hard day’s work. When somebody snatched my food, the old man would share his with me and even fight with the other inmates for me.
Throughout my stay, I wondered why my parents were not coming to the jail to meet me. When I was set free on November 12, I briefly thought whether I should go back to my parents because I was under the impression that they weren’t bothered about me. But when I met my family and friends at Halisahar station, I realised what they had gone through.
I admit it was a mistake to travel by a train meant only for women. But didn’t I deserve a chance to call my parents and pay the fine (Rs 500) for my mistake? I would have been spared the trauma, torture and horror if the authorities had allowed me to contact my parents.
Additional reporting by Sanjay Mandal
Who is to blame for Biswanath’s 12 days of torment? Tell firstname.lastname@example.org