An autorickshaw driver allegedly struck a woman on the head with an iron rod in Park Circus on Monday afternoon for contesting his demand for more than the legitimate fare.
The incident occurred minutes after 32-year-old Mousumi Kumbakar alighted from Amir Ali’s autorickshaw in front of the newly opened Quest mall and argued with him over the extra money he was demanding for travelling 200 metres beyond the seven-point crossing.
Amir allegedly hit Mousumi with the iron rod that auto drivers in Calcutta place horizontally to the right of their seats as a conveniently detachable barrier. As blood oozed out of the Dunlop resident’s head, some witnesses to the assault ran across Syed Amir Ali Avenue to catch the driver and hand him over to police.
“Amir has been charged with attempt to murder under Section 307 of the IPC,” an officer at Karaya police station said.
The offence carries a maximum punishment of life imprisonment.
Mousumi, who required five stitches to close the gash, said Amir had first tried to cheat and then intimidate her and friend Raju Ahmad into paying Rs 30 more than the normal fare for travelling till Quest from near New Market.
“We did some shopping in New Market and headed for Quest mall, which we knew was in Park Circus but not its exact location. A few metres before the seven-point crossing, we asked the driver about the location of the mall. He said it was quite far from the crossing,” Mousumi recounted.
When the couple requested Amir to take them to the mall, he asked for Rs 30 over the actual fare of Rs 24 for travelling the extra distance.
Mousumi, who works as a marketing executive for a cosmetic brand, said she agreed to pay extra but was “shocked” to discover that the mall was barely 200 metres from the Park Circus crossing.
“We refused to pay him the extra fare since he had tried to cheat us. He started arguing and demanded the fare we had agreed to pay without being aware of the distance to the mall,” she said.
When Mousumi’s friend sought to end the argument by paying the Rs 54 demanded of them, Amir allegedly got greedier. “I gave the driver Rs 60 and asked for the Rs 6 which he owed us. But he refused to pay me back the change and was about to drive away when Mousumi started shouting at him for behaving like a rogue,” Raju said.
The driver, who was in a hurry to return to the auto stand to pick up passengers, stopped and retaliated with a string of abuses. “I saw him trying to detach the rod fixed to the right of his seat but couldn’t evade the blow. He hit me on the head with the rod and I almost blanked out,” Mousumi said, sitting at Karaya police station to lodge a complaint.
Qamar Bakht, a leader of Trinamul’s youth wing, was among those who had seen the argument and the assault from across the road. He and some friends rushed to Mousumi’s rescue after she fell on the pavement.
“We were shocked at the brazen attitude of the auto driver, who after hitting Mousumi was standing with the rod in his hand without a trace of remorse. We pinned him down and called the police. Some of us took Mousumi to a hospital,” Bakht said.
Auto drivers misbehaving and/or assaulting passengers is not new in a city where they enjoy political patronage and the licence to break every rule of the road. But the frequency of such incidents has increased in recent months, revealing the Frankenstein that the political leadership now can’t rein in.
Transport minister Madan Mitra had convened a meeting with over 400 auto drivers at Netaji Indoor Stadium on January 9, presumably to ask them to behave. But the meeting did not throw up any solution.
Last Wednesday, a 25-year-old woman from Behala suffered a nose injury when she was slapped twice by an auto driver at the Taratala crossing for being unable to pay the exact fare of Rs 10. She had given the driver a Rs 50 note.’
The assault on Pallabi Chatterjee prompted minister Mitra to promise — not for the first time — to crack the whip on errant auto drivers. Monday’s incident shows that little has changed for the thousands of auto-dependent commuters who endure harassment daily.
“Auto drivers abuse passengers even over loose change and there is nothing we can do about it,” said Sudeshna Basu, a resident of Kasba who regularly takes an auto to and from Gariahat.