Calcutta, July 16: A biker and his accomplices chased a Frenchwoman and her male colleague through the lanes of Jodhpur Park and Lake Gardens on Saturday night, one of them declaring aloud his intention to “f***” her, the Frenchman told The Telegraph today.
The incident was briefly reported on Tuesday but the sketchy details provided by official sources did not bring out the full extent of the depravity that unfolded in one of the most well-known residential neighbourhoods in Calcutta.
The French nationals are a senior official of Alliance Francaise du Bengale and his colleague.
The woman, a resident of Jodhpur Park, hid herself behind taxis and construction materials, scaled the gate of a housing complex and banged on doors for help. The version has been corroborated by residents of the complex.
Chased and slapped around, the man ducked stones and ran to draw the attackers away from his friend.
Police have since arrested four persons — Kanai Naskar; Chhotu Haldar, 26, a car driver; Bubai Hazra, 19, a local footballer; and Nepal Sardar, 20. Naskar has been released on bail.
The charges are bailable because the suspects have been charged with voluntarily causing hurt, wrongfully restraining a person, using word, gesture or act to insult the modesty of a woman and being an abettor present when the act is committed. It is not clear if the complaint mentions the threat to rape, which could have meant graver charges.
The following is the Frenchman’s account:
We had the July 14 (the French National Day) party for our students a day in advance this year because Sunday would be a holiday. Once the party got over, we shut the office around 10.30pm and left together for a common friend’s place in Gariahat. We chatted there till around 2am and I decided to drop my friend home in Jodhpur Park in a taxi.
We let the cab go near Jodhpur Park Market and were walking towards her house when a bike came from behind and slowed down. The biker stayed silent and I could not make out what the guy riding pillion was saying. I gestured at him to leave us alone.
They went away, took a round and came back. This time, he was more aggressive. We realised that they wanted trouble and I gestured to her to move away. I tried to reason with them with whatever little Hindi I know — “Aap kaise ho?” and such things.
She hid behind a couple of parked taxis. When they saw her getting away, the pillion-rider, in a white T-shirt, declared in English: “I want to f*** her.”
I tried to tell them not to try any such thing. By then, she had moved behind a sand pile in an adjacent construction site.
I realised they had seen that too. So I shouted in French, asking her to hide somewhere else. One of them slapped me and I staggered back, still trying to reason with him, though I could make out he was drunk.
He was starting to unzip his trousers and there was no doubt what he had on his mind. I could also see from the corner of the eye that she had left the construction site and was headed up the lane. But thankfully, they were too busy with me to notice that.
The guy then walked over to the construction site to get her. I knew she wasn’t there. To buy some time for her, I crossed to the opposite side. When he realised she wasn’t there, he made a call on his mobile. Two of his friends walked up within a minute or two. I could make out the first question one of them asked: “Where is she?”
They were upset that she was not there and abused me. One of the reasons for their ire seemed to be that I didn’t speak Hindi or Bengali and so they wondered what I was doing in the city. They started to slap me again. I realised the situation was getting out of hand. I started to run.
One of the two guys who came later picked up a brick. I saw that and ducked while running. The brick missed me. I kept running, changing lanes as often as I could, while shouting “Help, help” at the top of my voice. But there was no one around.
While passing by one house, I noticed her hiding and alerted her to stay away as they were still following us on foot. About two or three streets away from her, I jumped into the premises of a building and hid there.
I must have spent about 15-20 minutes there before my nerves calmed. Fishing my phone out of my trouser pocket, I dialled the number saved for police: 100.
Someone took the call but could not understand a word of what I said. They called back within two minutes. This time, I spoke slower, yet it was not helping.
At this point, I sensed them scouring the streets in search of us, so I disconnected the call. The cops did call a few more times but my phone was in silent mode and I was scared to speak lest they heard me.
When the police called again, an officer was speaking English at the other end but it did not help as I could not tell him where I was. I had no idea myself. He advised me to go to the nearest police station. I realised I needed to find my friend quickly and praying she was all right, I made for the house near which I had seen her last.
She was howling my name and crying in panic. She had scaled the gate and jumped into the premises. The guard of the complex had woken up and I told him to open the gate, let me in and shut it again.
Hearing the commotion, a young man from a ground-floor apartment came out and also an elderly lady. So did a gentleman. The youth took his bike out and went to the main road to get a taxi for us. When the cab came all three of them got in with the two of us and saw us to the door of my friend’s place. They waited till we were in and the door was shut.
My friend was in trauma so I stayed with her all night. In the morning, I went with some Bengali-speaking staff members of Alliance Francaise to Lake police station to lodge a complaint.
The police took me back to the spot around 2pm on Sunday. I rode pillion with the investigating officer while two others were on separate bikes. I spotted the guy who had thrown the brick at me chatting with others and pointed him out. He tried to walk away quickly but the officer caught him.
The police also got me to identify the spot and spoke to residents nearby and those who had helped us.
You might be wondering what my impression of the city is now. But let me tell you I love Calcutta as much as I have in the past one and a half years of my stint in the city. I have no plans to go away.
But there was no doubt that it was the girl they were after. The police asked us what she was wearing. She was in a pair of jeans and a sleeveless top.
Since that night, she has been staying with a friend elsewhere. Both of us know things could have been a lot worse. But I am not sure if she would stay back in Calcutta.