A hawker in the New Market area allegedly slapped a 21-year-old girl on Thursday afternoon when she confronted him for abusing her younger sister who had accidentally stepped on his bags laid out on the footpath.
The girl allegedly grabbed the bag-seller by his collar, shouted for help and dragged him to the nearest police outpost on Lindsay Street.
The incident happened in front of a shopping mall on the way to New Market from Jawaharlal Nehru Road, barely 250m from New Market police station, around 5pm when the area was teeming with shoppers but hardly a policeman on sight.
“Sheikh Adil, 20, was arrested and charged with outraging the modesty of a woman and assaulting her,” said a senior officer of New Market police station. “He will be produced in court on Friday.”
According to the complaint, the sisters were walking on the crowded road, with their 19-year-old cousin a little behind, when the Class XII student accidentally stepped on a heap of laundry bags that the hawker had laid out by encroaching upon a sizeable portion of the road.
The girls told the police that the hawker shouted obscenities and abused the student when some bags fell from the heap.
“The sisters apologised but the hawker kept shouting and came intimidatingly close to the girls, forcing the elder one to push him away. The next moment, he slapped the girl,” an officer said quoting the complaint.
“My sister had immediately said sorry but the man was continuously abusing us. I pushed him only when he came too close to her,” the complainant said.
By now the cousin caught up with his sisters and cornered the hawker. “But other hawkers ganged up with the youth to attack our brother. Shoppers came to our rescue before those thugs could do any harm to him,” the girl said.
The girl dragged Adil to the police outpost and got him arrested. “While I was writing the complaint, some of the hawkers asked me to forgive him and drop the case. They tried to intimidate me when I refused,” the girl said.
Of the estimated 3.5 lakh street hawkers in Calcutta, the largest concentration can be found in the Esplanade area — overrunning footpaths with their ware by allegedly paying hafta to the authorities. Hawker highhandedness in and around New Market is common, though most incidents go unreported.
In December 2012, a large number of hawkers blocked the area when Subir Roy, an advocate of Calcutta High Court, forced the police to remove a man who had piled up goods for sale in the middle of a parking lot on Bertram Street near New Market.
“We have written several complaints to the police requesting them to evict hawkers from the New Market area. The police never take any action against them,” said Uday Shaw, secretary of the SS Hogg Market Traders’ Association.