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Highway assault 5 held in night raid

The five remaining suspects in the highway assault on four young Calcuttans — two of them girls — on Thursday night were arrested early on Sunday.

Police said all five were hiding in a house of a relative of one of the accused in Janai in Hooghly district.

The five — Javed Sheikh, 26, his cousin Sheikh Habib, 22, Guddu Bashar, 24, Sheikh Rafiqul, 25, and Sheikh Enamul, 25 — have been charged under IPC sections 324 (assault), 325 (voluntarily causing grievous hurt) and 354 (molestation). They have been remanded in police custody for four days.

The sixth accused, Rahim Mollah, who had left his cell phone at the scene of the crime near Birshibpur on National Highway 6, was arrested on Friday.

“The five men kept changing hideouts since Rahim’s arrest. Based on our intelligence inputs, we raided the Janai house and arrested all of them,” said Bharat Lal Meena, the superintendent of police (rural), Howrah.

According to the complaint, the six men on three motorbikes had chased, assaulted and molested the youngsters, who had dined at a popular dhaba on the highway in Kolaghat, around 60km from Calcutta. The victims — DJs returning from a show at an engineering college — had dialled 100 for help thrice.

The police on the helpline told them that the area was beyond their jurisdiction and later gave them a landline number, which turned out to be that of a police station 25km from the site of assault.

A patrol team of Uluberia police station, said to be barely 200m from the spot, allegedly did not move despite being alerted about the assault by passing trucks. The police ultimately reached the spot 20 minutes after the bikers had fled.

No action has yet been taken to identify the cop who refused help citing jurisdiction or the ones in the patrol team.

“There are no police control rooms for rural Howrah. All distress calls in the district go to the control rooms in the Howrah commissionerate. I have asked my counterparts in the commissionerate to check if they had received any such calls,” said Meena.

About the cops in the patrol team and the delay in their arrival, he said he had started an inquiry.

The police said the five who were arrested on Sunday were residents of Bazarpara and Jagatpur villages in Uluberia, along the highway.

“They had initially taken refuge in the ancestral house of Sheikh Habib (one of the five rounded up during the day) in Howrah’s Panchla. From there they shifted to a hideout in Shibpur on Friday night after we started calling up their family members and questioning them,” said an officer investigating the case.

The gang left Shibpur on Saturday on their bikes and roamed around for some time before turning up at the Janai house belonging to the family of a cousin of Javed. The sleuths raided the house around 2am on Sunday.

“The men ran up to the terrace and were trying to jump when a relative of Javed climbed an adjacent wall and tried to convince them to surrender. The relative fell and injured his legs. After that the five surrendered,” the officer said.

Defence counsel at the court of the additional chief judicial magistrate of Uluberia submitted: “All five are from respected families and none has any criminal background.... They should be let off.”

Assistant public prosecutor Zulfikar Khan opposed the plea, saying the youths could have raped the two girls among the four victims and tried to abduct all.