|The family outside Hare Street police station on Wednesday. The taxi, whose driver allegedly threatened to take away the boy because his 4-year-old sister threw up on the floor mat, is parked behind them. Picture by Amit Datta
Calcutta, Dec. 26: A mother whose four-year-old daughter had thrown up in a taxi was told to clean up, pay Rs 2,000 as compensation and threatened with the abduction of her other child if she failed to do either.
Pinki Saha’s ordeal in the heart of Calcutta this afternoon did not end there.
She was able to attract the attention of a traffic sergeant. But the law-enforcer first stood by and watched Pinki’s sister clean the taxi’s floor mat and then announced that it was beyond his jurisdiction to detain the driver.
Like most parents or guardians, neither Pinki nor her sister had any problem in cleaning up — they volunteered to do so if a piece of cloth could be found.
But rarely has any parent been threatened with abduction or slapped Rs 2,000 compensation for what is a common occurrence in public transport, especially long-distance buses. Such child-related episodes do not leave stains that cannot be washed away with a pail of water.
A resident of Howrah’s Belur, Pinki was going to New Market with her two children aged 4 and 6 and sister Reshmi Chatterjee, 32. Outside the Raj Bhavan, Nistha felt unwell and the child could not hold back.
After the little girl threw up, Pinki asked the driver to park the taxi on Rani Rashmoni Avenue as she would have to clean her daughter up. Besides the aunt’s clothes, the rubber mat on the floor of the taxi was soiled.
“The driver asked us to clean his taxi. When I said let me clean my daughter first, he insisted that I should clean up the mat first,” recounted Pinki.
Pinki agreed to clean the car as her sister tended to the little girl. She wanted a piece of cloth from the driver. He refused, saying it was her job to arrange it.
“He then asked us to pay Rs 2,000. Or else he will take my son away,” Pinki said.
Stunned by what the driver was saying, the homemaker approached the traffic sergeant on duty. In front of the sergeant, Reshmi borrowed a piece of cloth from a man selling jhalmuri and cleaned up the taxi.
By then, Pinki had called her husband Ashish, a garments trader, and made him speak to the sergeant. Ashish pleaded with the cop to detain the driver.
“But the taxi driver was allowed to drive away. When I asked the sergeant about it, he asked me to take down the number of the vehicle,” Pinki said.
Ashish had dialled 100 from Belur and had said how his family was being harassed by a cabbie. He was given the number of the Lalbazar control room, which then directed him to the traffic control room.
But when he reached Esplanade from Belur two hours later, Pinki and her sister were standing unattended with the two children. “I was shocked. The driver had threatened to abduct my son but my family was given no protection,” Ashish said this evening, standing outside Hare Street police station.
At Esplanade, Ashish had approached the sergeant who was on duty nearby and asked him why he had not detained the taxi driver. “The sergeant told me that it is not in the rules to detain a taxi,” he said.
Senior officers at Lalbazar said the sergeant had the authority to stop the taxi as the woman was complaining of a threat to abduct her son. “Threatening anyone is an offence and it comes under Section 509 of the IPC. The sergeant should have restricted the taxi’s movement and initiated action to prosecute the driver,” an officer said.
The driver, Rajkumar Prasad, 38, was arrested from his home at Harish Mukherjee Road on Wednesday evening. He was charged with wrongful restraint and threats, offences that prove the sergeant had been lenient with the accused while letting the commuters be harassed.
In the past few months, there has been one instance after the other in which taxi drivers harassed passengers, misbehaved with them and assaulted them.
A cabbie getting punished in Calcutta is rare but even rarer is a policeman being hauled up for wrongdoing. The complaint the Howrah lady lodged at the police station this evening does not even mention the role of the sergeant because the investigating officer dissuaded them from going into “all that”.
“Your real complaint is against the driver and we will arrest him. Why do you want to drag a policeman into all this,” Pinki’s husband Ashish tonight quoted the investigating officer as saying. “We wanted to complain about the cop but we were prevented from doing so,” Ashish said.
Deputy commissioner of police (traffic) Dilip Adak said the cops on roads were always told to be sympathetic to complainants and assist people in distress. “It is the duty of a policeman to help anyone seeking help,” Adak said.
His message obviously hasn’t trickled down.
A passenger cannot be forced to clean a taxi, transport minister Madan Mitra told The Telegraph tonight. “There is no such rule. There can’t be any such rule. This happened because of the ill-temperament of the taxi driver, which is unwanted…. It is a really sad and a very unfortunate incident.”