A young man who raised his voice against hooch dens at Bamangachhi like murdered college student Sourav Chowdhury had done was assaulted on Tuesday night by a gang allegedly led by a Trinamul leader’s nephew.
At least 10 men dragged out Srikanta Bhadra, 26, to the courtyard of his house that overlooks a row of hooch dens shortly after he had returned from work and attacked him in front of his widowed mother.
Srikanta, who works in a private security firm, said he cried out for help but none of his neighbours dared intervene. He later went to Duttapukur police station with some friends and lodged a complaint against Amjad Ali Mondal, a nephew of gram panchayat member Hanif Mondal.
Amjad and an associate named Biswajit Biswas were arrested late on Tuesday. The duo have since been remanded in police custody for a day.
“I reached home around 10.15pm on Tuesday and Amjad and his men raided my house within 30 minutes,” Srikanta said. “They dragged me out and punched me in the face. None of my neighbours stepped out to save me.”
Amjad’s arrest within hours of Srikanta lodging a complaint was in contrast to the delay in rounding up the suspects in the murder of anti-hooch campaigner Sourav on July 5. The police arrested the prime accused in the murder, Shyamal Karmakar, five days after his dismembered body was found beside the rail tracks between Bamangachhi and Duttapukur.
“The trigger for the murder and the assault on Tuesday night are the same. Hooch dens are running under the patronage of leaders of the ruling party and the police are sitting on complaints,” a resident of the North 24-Parganas neighbourhood said.
Sourav’s father Saroj Chowdhury and brother Sandip visited Srikanta’s house on Wednesday morning after hearing about the assault on him.
“My son was murdered because he had protested (against the hooch dens). Srikanta has shown he too has the courage to speak out. We must stand by him,” Saroj said.
Srikanta had been warned against campaigning against the hooch dens lining the rail tracks in front of his house at Paschim Morali, a locality adjoining Kulberia, where Sourav’s family lives.
“I was at Bamangachhi railway station when Amjad and some others came up to me and said I should not campaign against the hooch dens they visit every evening. I told him that I would mobilise villagers for a campaign, to which they said I would be taught a lesson soon,” Srikanta, who had become more vocal after Sourav’s death, alleged.
Sudip Roy, a friend of Srikanta, said accused Amjad was as “notorious” as Shyamal Karmakar. “He roams the area with a firearm tucked in his waist. He and his associates drink in the open and pass lewd remarks at women. It has become a regular torture for us.”
Biswajit Das, a resident of the area, said Amjad was notorious for intimidating people “Three months ago, I was talking to one of my friends over the phone. It was around 10pm near a field. Amjad came to me with his accomplices, brandished a firearm and asked me to leave the place immediately because he would be practising target firing,” he recounted.
According to Sudip, the police might not have been arrested Amjad so soon after the assault on Srikanta had Sourav’s death not triggered an outpouring of anger.
A 45-year-old homemaker living near Srikanta’s house said she didn’t know that the youth had been assaulted. “Srikanta is my neighbour. But I did not hear his screams for help because of heavy rain. All our windows were closed because of the rain.”
Panchayat member Hanif distanced himself from his nephew, saying he would like the police to probe his role in the assault on Srikanta without bias. “I have no relations with him (Amjad). He doesn’t have any link with the party either. I will welcome all lawful action the police initiate against him.”
Youths of the neighbourhood who have pledged their solidarity with Srikanta accused the police of being responsible for the lawlessness in Bamangachhi.
“We reported the activities of Amjad and his men on several occasions, mentioning the places where hooch dens are located. But the police didn’t act on the information provided by us,” Sudip said.
According to him, there has been little improvement in law and order since Duttapukur police station was set up a year ago.
“I had never seen a police car patrolling our area before Sourav’s death. However visible the police are in the aftermath of Sourav’s murder, I think it will change once memories of the incident fade,” Sudip said.
The police contested the allegation. Additional superintendent of police, North 24-Parganas, Bhaskar Mukherjee, said: “The police demolish hooch dens whenever they receive any information about them.”