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Outrage shakes police awake

Calcutta, July 17: Outrage at the alleged attack on a woman and her colleague in Jodhpur Park and Lake Gardens appears to have forced police to slap the accused with charges that carry life imprisonment.

The Frenchwoman left Calcutta last night, before a wave of shock and sympathy swept the residential neighbourhood this morning.

Many residents wrote letters expressing shame and sadness as well as recounting their own bitter experiences in what was considered one of the safest housing zones in the city. Some identified specific spots that require the attention of the police and listed suggestions to make the neighbourhood safer.

The prime target of the attack, a trainee at Alliance Francaise du Bengale, “cut short her training in Calcutta” and left, a French consulate source said.

A lady who stays two floors above in the Jodhpur Park apartment building where the Frenchwoman lived wanted to take a bunch of flowers to her this morning. “The flat was locked. I had last seen her leaving the building around 11am on Sunday. Wish I could at least apologise to her on behalf of the city,” Chandrima Roy said.

The police, who were helpful to the French nationals but did not take any initiative to treat the crime as one over which an exemplary message can be sent, woke up to the gravity this morning — more than 72 hours after the law-enforcers entered the picture.

A senior police officer today met the Frenchman, the woman’s colleague who had been slapped and chased, “to re-examine the complaint”. After deputy commissioner (south-east division) Debabrata Das called on the senior Alliance Francaise official, the charges were altered.

Amending the charges, the police accused the suspects of attempt to murder (Section 307 of the IPC) and assault or criminal force on women with intent to outrage their modesty (Section 354).

If found guilty, the maximum punishment will be life imprisonment, unlike the three-year jail the earlier milder charges had entailed. The new charges are also non-bailable, which means bail can be obtained only if the court allows.

The impact of the change was evident today itself. Three of the accused were denied bail this afternoon and sent to police custody for five days, unlike on Monday when another accused walked out on bail.

At least one of the accused is absconding. Kanai Naskar, 35, the suspect already out on bail because of the initial lenient charges, can be arrested again if the police want to.

“The police need to seek cancellation of his bail because a more severe charge against him has now come to light,” an officer said.

Some officers wondered why the police did not choose the graver charges earlier although a brick was hurled at the Frenchman, the woman had to scale a gate to find safety and one of the suspects was accused of openly declaring he wanted to “f*** her”.

The initial charges were confined to outraging modesty through words and gestures, voluntarily causing hurt and wrongful restraint.

A senior lawyer said the attempt to murder and sexual assault were apparent from the account of the French national. “Being attacked with a brick could have been fatal and attracts the section for attempt to murder. And if someone chases a woman declaring that he wants to sexually assault her, what more does a policeman need for starting a strong case?”

Senior police officers said the earlier charges were based on a written complaint. “We questioned him again on Wednesday morning when he came up with more details. It is apparent that he might have missed a lot of details in the earlier account as he was in a state of shock. Considering his new statement, we have made necessary alterations,” said joint commissioner (crime) Pallab Kanti Ghosh.

On Tuesday, another officer had said the complaint only mentioned “the use of abusive language, which does not necessarily mean an offence relating to sexual harassment”.

A retired IPS officer said police stations needed to help people phrase a complaint. “It is advisable that in case of a crime against women, some senior officer examine the victim and the complainant and try to encourage them to provide as many details in the written statement as possible,” he said.

‘IGNORING THEM IS NO LONGER THE BEST OPTION’

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The pile of sand in Lake Gardens, behind which the Frenchwoman hid until she was spotted by the pursuers again on Saturday night. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya

This is not the Calcutta of my childhood dreams

This is not the Calcutta my husband brought me to

This is not the Calcutta I learned to love and appreciate

Between the CPM inertia of certain power and the goondaraj of the Trinamool Congress

RIP Calcutta

You’ve withstood a lot because after all those were aliens who had come to loot you

You don’t have to tolerate your own destroying your innate bhadralok culture, history of tolerance, and spiritual beauty of Ramakrishna and Vivekananda.…

Elizabeth Gupta

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Having been a resident of Lake Gardens for the past three years, I have realised the area is not as safe as it is made out to be…. Both places (the two homes where I stayed) are just metres away from the home of the MP, Mr Saugata Roy. And just behind his house, where the SBI Lake Gardens branch is situated, is an adda zone for some youths, mostly real estate agents and drivers. Passing by them can be embarrassing for women. Apart from staring shamelessly, the youths often make lewd remarks.

I, like many others, always believed ignoring them was the best option but Saturday night’s incident proves me wrong. I appeal to the police to arrange for regular patrolling in the area.

Somak Adhya

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I have always been proud of the hassle-free neighbourhood and was disappointed to read about Saturday night’s incident. It made me feel ashamed too. What happened to the French duo is shocking. But I was also relieved to note that there were people who did help them.

Nisheeth Bijawat

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I am a 34-year-old woman and I often drive back late from dinners or movies. I always believed that Calcutta is a very safe city. But, of late, I have started feeling scared at nights even while driving home with my husband. The city is full of bikers in groups. They speed, they race, mostly in triples and almost always without helmets. They also peep inside passing cars. Cops on night duty seem to ignore these rogue bikers.

Shikha Harlalka

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An incident such as the one reported was unthinkable. But I have noticed a gradual
deterioration. Night patrolling, an initiative by some residents, has stopped because of lack of funds.

Gautam Malik

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Sincere apologies on behalf of the residents of Jodhpur Park…. I would like to thank Prithwish Gupta and Sanjay Prasad for helping them in distress. The lane near the income tax building leading into Jodhpur Park has seen a spurt of bike riders recently, making pedestrians, especially women, feel uneasy.

T.D. Gupta

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Surprising and shocking that something like this could happen so close to my house. I am a frequent traveller but my mother and sister stay in the area and I have felt it to be very safe. What happened is sad and disgusting.

Yudhajit Dutta

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I live very close to the construction site where she had sought refuge. What happened is unbelievable.

Soumi Ganguly

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I feel sorry and sad. This incident, to me, is no less than an act of terror.

Saswata Ghosh Chaudhuri

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Unless we protest against such incidents, there can be no end to them. Such incidents make me feel ashamed as a Calcuttan.

Himadri Sengupta

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I feel ashamed as a Calcuttan and pray for safety.

Sujata Banerjee