TIME: 8.30pm, Tuesday
THE PLACE: A busy stretch of road in Ballygunge, opposite a teeming food court and barely 100 metres from a police kiosk
THE CRIME: Snatching
THE TARGET: A woman waiting for a bus along with around 15 other people
A man walked up to a woman waiting to catch a bus home outside the Haldiram food court in Ballygunge, snatched her gold chain and sped away on a two-wheeler through one of Calcutta’s busiest evening traffic zones.
The snatching occurred around 100 metres from a police kiosk on a well-lit road far from deserted around 8.30pm on Tuesday, showing yet again how vulnerable women are even in places where there is no apparent danger.
Preeti Das, a 41-year-old from Dhakuria, was one of about 15 commuters waiting for a bus there while people were streaming in and out of the food court, opposite CCFC (Calcutta Cricket and Football Club) and the official residence of Calcutta High Court’s Chief Justice.
The snatcher hopped on to the bike from which he had got off — his two accomplices were waiting with the engine revving — and zoomed off towards Gariahat before Preeti or anyone else on the road could react.
For Preeti, a working woman who travels alone using public transport every day, the place had never seemed unsafe until her gold chain was snatched. The fact that the incident occurred in such a place underscores why Calcutta ranks third in the country in terms of crimes reported against women, according to the 2012 report of the National Crime Records Bureau.
“Who could have imagined that they had stopped to snatch a chain from someone’s neck with a police kiosk located just a few metres away? When the bike stopped a few yards away, I thought the three men on it were waiting for someone. Then this man got off, walked towards me and before I could react, snatched my chain and pendant. He jumped back onto the bike and the trio fled towards Gariahat,” Preeti recounted.
The gold chain weighs 11 grams and would be worth around Rs 32,000 at the current price of gold.
The police kiosk, one of 120-odd in the vicinity of intersections in the city, was manned at the time of the incident but residents of the area questioned its utility in the absence of proactive policing.
“I see policemen in the kiosk every time I cross the Gurusaday Dutta Road intersection. The police must have seen the bikers riding past before the snatching happened. There were three men on the bike but they still did not think it necessary to stop the two-wheeler. What is the use of such a kiosk?” asked a resident.
According to Preeti, one of the men was not wearing a helmet, which is another violation. Three persons on a motorbike is, of course, a common sight in Calcutta.
Police sources blamed a curve on the road that cuts off visibility for the personnel on duty failing to stop the trio on the bike.
“We are probing the incident. Two of the three men were wearing helmets,” said Sumanjit Ray, deputy commissioner of the detective department.
Preeti said the cops on duty were helpful when she approached them. “I was in shock. I am a diabetic and my sugar level dropped. I still managed to walk to the police kiosk, where the cops instantly offered me water, which helped me a lot. They said I would need to lodge a complaint with Karaya police station. On reaching the police station, I was told that the spot where the incident occurred was under the jurisdiction of Ballygunge police station. I then went to Ballygunge police station to lodge a complaint.”
On a Monday afternoon last December, a man had reached out through the rolled-down window of a taxi waiting at the same crossing to snatch a gold chain of a young homemaker seated in the car. The 25-year-old homemaker, Shamina Ansar, chased the man and alerted pedestrians, who caught him.
A police officer sought to blame the spurt in such incidents to the addition of new and apparently less-policed areas under Calcutta police’s jurisdiction. “Cases of snatching have gone up since areas were added to Calcutta police’s jurisdiction. Currently, on an average, two-three snatchings are reported across the city every week,” the officer said.
Sources in Lalbazar said the pattern of crime had also changed. “For bike gangs, it hardly matters whether they are committing the crime on a busy road or a deserted stretch. If we can control the bike menace, that would substantially lower the rate of snatchings in the city,” a senior officer said.
For women in the city, it is hardly reassuring that bike gangs continue to be on the prowl.
“I had heard or read about such incidents happening to others but never considered the possibility of being targeted on a stretch of road that had so long appeared safe to me,” Preeti said.