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‘Price’ of hooch protest

- College student beheaded and dismembered
Police lathicharge a protester on Saturday. (Sanjib Chaki)

Calcutta, July 5: The dismembered body of a college student who was the face of protests against hooch dens and alleged harassment of women in his North 24-Parganas neighbourhood was found beside railway tracks near Barasat this morning.

Sourav Chowdhury, 21, the younger son in a family that is known to support the BJP, had been missing since 11.30 last night after he stepped out of a local club where he had watched the World Cup match between Germany and France.

The search by his friends and family ended at 6.30am when they found his beheaded body on a deserted stretch 6km from his home. The head and the limbs, which too had been severed, lay nearby.

Police said local land broker Shyamal Sen Karmakar was the prime suspect. Shyamal allegedly controlled the hooch dens in Kulberia village, 35km from Calcutta. Sourav had protested as the dens thrived and outsiders who frequented them passed lewd comments at local women.

“Shyamal, 36, is a Trinamul activist. He was angry with Sourav because of his persistent protests,” an officer at the local Duttapukur police station said.

Jyotipriya Mullick, minister and the Trinamul district president, denied the party’s involvement. “We have asked the police to find the real culprits,” he said.

Those who watched the football match said Shyamal had asked Sourav to come with him after the game.

“Sourav was standing in front of the club, talking about the German win with one of his friends over the phone. Shyamal and four others came and told him they had certain things to discuss with him,” said Sourin Kar, who said he saw them walk away together.

North 24-Parganas has witnessed several murders of citizens who protested wrongs in the past few years. Residents blame the trend on the “political patronage” enjoyed by goons and the police’s “reluctance” to act.

“The death highlights the goonda raj we live in,” a resident of Kulberia said today after the police caned people who blocked railway tracks to protest the death.

“We wish the police were as active in shutting the hooch dens. But there, the police are scared of even raising their baton.”

The place where last night’s murder took place is 10km from Barasat town.

Besides going to college, second-year student Sourav, whose parents had contested the panchayat polls last year on a BJP ticket, had been working in a two-wheeler showroom as a spare parts expert.

“Shyamal brings his associates from outside the village every evening and they drink in the open and harass our girls. We protested several times and Sourav led us,” said the student’s neighbour and friend Sushovan Mitra.

Sourav’s brother Sandip said: “Shyamal had threatened my brother for protesting. He had asked my brother if he considered himself a BJP leader.”

The police had a routine response. “We will investigate all the allegations,” said Bhaskar Mukherjee, additional superintendent of police, North 24-Parganas.

Sourav’s father, a clerk with the Geological Survey of India and the BJP’s local unit secretary in Kulberia, has lodged a police complaint against Shyamal and others. The police said Shyamal was absconding. One person was arrested late tonight.

“It was a ghastly murder. Both his legs had been chopped off from the knee and the arms severed from the shoulder. He was also beheaded. It must have taken four to six people to commit the crime. The weapon they used must have been sharp and heavy,” a police officer said.

As the news of Sourav’s death spread, residents blocked the tracks between Bamangachhi and Duttapukur stations, disrupting local train services for nearly three hours from 8am. The agitation spread to Jessore Road and some people squatted on the busy highway.

The police caned the agitators in both places. Four people were injured. One of them has been admitted to Barasat hospital with head injuries.