Padma Bhattacharya at her Bansdroni home. (Amit Datta)
A 70-year-old woman was robbed at gunpoint when she was home alone at Bansdroni in south Calcutta on Wednesday afternoon.
The incident is one of many in recent years where criminals have targeted elderly people living alone, most of them with children staying elsewhere because of personal or professional reasons.
Padma Bhattacharya doesn’t have children and has been living with her 73-year-old realtor husband Tarun in their two-storey house for three decades. On Wednesday, Tarun was away when the doorbell rang at their Northern Park home, 500 metres from Bansdroni police station, around 12.30pm.
Padma looked out of the window of the ground-floor balcony and saw three unfamiliar faces. “The men said they were masons and had come to meet my husband. I told them to wait in the balcony till my husband returned,” she recounted.
Being alone at home for long periods had taught Padma to be careful. So when the visitors asked for water to drink, she handed them a bottle through the window rather than let them in.
“After some time, the men said they were getting late and requested me to call my husband. In the same breath, they asked me to take back the water bottle,” she said.
Padma let her guard down for a second and that was the opportunity they had been looking for. “I opened the door to take the bottle back even as I was dialling my husband and the three of them forced their way in,” the 70-year-old said.
One of the men held a gun to her and another brandished a knife, ordering her to reveal where the cash was. The robbers said they had information about Tarun bringing home Rs 5 lakh recently.
Padma handed the trio a bunch of keys and didn’t resist when they snatched the gold chain around her neck along with a gold-encrusted shakha. She decided that feigning illness was her only chance of escape.
“I slumped on the floor and they fell for it. One of the men helped me to the sofa and even put a pillow behind my back, while another ran to the bathroom to bring water to sprinkle on my face,” Padma said.
The third man went upstairs with the bunch of keys to bring the cash. He ransacked the cupboards but found only Rs 5,000. Before fleeing, the trio disconnected the landline.
The money that the robbers had come looking for was under the mattress on which they sat while sprinkling water on Padma, the police said.
“The lady not only feigned illness but also won the trio’s trust by telling them specifically which key was meant for which cupboard. She also told them that they had been misinformed about her husband keeping Rs 5 lakh in cash at home. And they believed her,” an officer said.
Padma may have saved a large amount of money but Wednesday afternoon’s break-in will haunt her every time she is home alone.