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Snatch & scoot amid gunshots

A mother escorting her college-going daughter to the bus stop was robbed of her gold chain in daylight barely 200 metres from her Behala home on Tuesday morning.

Daughter Sonakhya Samaddar, 18, screamed for help and gave chase but gave up when the motorbike-borne snatchers fired in the air and sped away through the maze of lanes leading to James Long Sarani.

For Sonakhya, a first-year student of statistics at St. Xavier’s College, the neighbourhood where she was born and grew up just got scarier.

She has been walking through the lane that runs past her family’s two-storey house for almost 15 years, first as a schoolgirl and now a college student. Yet she needs someone to accompany her to the main road.

Sonakhya isn’t alone in her fear on home turf. For women in many areas of Calcutta, even the familiar neighbourhood is not a safe place any longer. Be it the threat of tease gangs or strangers on bikes who ride dangerously close and make passes or armed snatchers, there is danger lurking in every alley.

“I have been accompanying her to the bus stop for years now because I do not feel confident about her travelling through these lanes alone. She is on her own once she reaches the main road,” said Sonakhya’s mother Sampa, a 45-year-old homemaker.

The neighbourhood, like many other fringe areas, is a combination of standalone houses and rows of newly built apartment buildings.

Unknown faces frequenting the neighbourhood, sometimes spotted chatting around the corner of a road or speeding through lanes on bikes, have turned Daspara more vulnerable to incidents like the one that occurred on Tuesday, a resident said.

Sonakhya was the first one to raise alarm and chase the bikers who snatched her mother’s gold chain around 9.50am.

“I spotted someone standing close and slowly tugging at my mother’s shawl. Before I could react, my mother felt the chain being pulled from her neck and turned back to look. I raised alarm and gave chase. I then heard two sounds resembling crackers being burst and the next second, I saw this man run across the road and jump on a bike waiting nearby,” she recounted to Metro.

Mother Sampa was too traumatised to move. “I felt a tug at my neck and realised the next moment that someone had just snatched my chain. I saw a man running towards a bike where another man was waiting. Next I heard my daughter scream ‘chor… chor (thief…thief)’,” the homemaker said.

Sonakhya’s screams attracted several passers-by but the snatchers were out of reach by then. “I heard them fire in the air again. I saw a puff of smoke coming out of the gun that the snatcher was carrying. When people started to chase the bike, he fired again to scare us off,” she said.

The police found a live cartridge and an empty shell.

Officers at Haridevpur police station blamed lack of manpower and infrastructure in the largest of the 65 police stations under Lalbazar — its jurisdiction spans 22sq km — for inadequate vigilance in the area.