|(From top) Taxi driver Lal Mohan Yadav being taken to court on Sunday; the stretch of Basanti highway where the woman was forced to jump out of Yadav’s taxi and the impounded vehicle. (Sanat Kr Sinha)
A 26-year-old homemaker jumped off a moving taxi on Saturday night after the cabbie allegedly snatched her belongings and tried to molest her on a deserted stretch of road 6km from the Science City crossing.
A police patrol found the woman crying by the roadside on the Basanti highway and intercepted the cabbie, 20-year-old Lal Mohan Yadav, on the Bypass around 11.10pm.
The accused has been booked under sections 411 (receiving stolen property), 379 (theft) and 354B (assault or use of criminal force to women with intent to disrobe) of the IPC.
If found guilty, Yadav can be jailed for a minimum of three years and a maximum of seven years.
The complainant, who lives in New Barrackpore in North 24-Parganas, had boarded the taxi at the Chingrihata crossing on the Bypass around 10.45pm.
She was headed for Bantala, where her in-laws live, to attend a wedding in the family.
“I was in the back seat and the driver suddenly stretched out his left hand and grabbed me by my hair and hand. He snatched my bag even as he was steering the vehicle with his right hand. I screamed for help but there was nobody around to hear me,” the woman said.
Officers at Pragati Maidan police station said the woman was fortunate that the incident occurred on a stretch of the highway under the jurisdiction of Calcutta police.
“We patrol that stretch at night. But Calcutta police’s jurisdiction ends a little ahead. Had it happened a little further down the road, we wouldn’t have come to know about the woman’s plight until it was too late,” an officer said.
The woman jumped off the taxi at a place called Koyla Depot, where the accused was reversing his vehicle after spotting the blue beacon of a police patrol van at a distance.
“When he slowed down the vehicle and started reversing, I thought it was my only chance to escape. I opened the door and jumped out. I was lucky to get away with bruises on my legs,” she recounted.
The homemaker waved at several passing vehicles for help but nobody stopped. The driver of one of these vehicles alerted the police van to her presence, though.
By the time the police reached her, the woman had called her husband, who had been waiting at Bantala for her. He soon arrived at Koyla Depot on a two-wheeler.
The police van stopped Yadav’s taxi near Science City. “There was only one taxi on the road at the time. The woman and her husband arrived soon after and she identified the driver as the one who had attacked her,” an officer at Pragati Maidan police station said.
The woman had taken a local train from New Barrackpore till Ultadanga, from where she reached the Chingrihata crossing by a private car illegally operating as a shuttle taxi.
“At Chingrihata, I requested a fellow commuter to help me hail a taxi that would take me to Bantala. He stopped one and asked if he could share the taxi since he was going in the same direction. He got off at the Metropolitan stop on the Bypass and asked the driver to take me to Bantala,” she said.
Cabbie Yadav allegedly attacked her the moment he was sure that nobody would hear his prospective victim’s screams.
Harassment and intimidation by taxi drivers are, of course, not restricted to desolate stretches like the 88km Basanti highway that leads to the Sunderbans.
On June 17, 73-year-old Mamata Pandit was pushed out of a taxi on Park Street for getting into the vehicle without the driver’s nod. Mamata and two friends of hers had apparently been refused by a dozen taxis before that.
A month earlier, on May 17, a taxi driver abused two young women, blocked their way and tried to snatch their bags when the duo decided to take another car because of his behaviour.
The women had got off the vehicle when the driver refused to enter a lane where one of them lives.