| The window (circled) through which Madhabi put out her hand. Picture by Aranya Sen
Calcutta, April 28: The last time neighbours saw Madhabi Das step out of her home, Mother Teresa was alive, Jyoti Basu was chief minister and the Babri Masjid was intact.
Imprisoned indoors by her in-laws for the past 15 years — and locked in a room for the last five — the 40-year-old’s sole known contact with the outside world since then came early this week when she stuck out a hand through a broken window pane.
It was just her good luck that Kaveri Chakraborty caught a glimpse of her face and recognised the neighbour everyone had forgotten since the sound of the beatings and cries stopped five years ago.
At 12.20 this afternoon, Madhabi’s neighbours in Umacharan Ray Road in Baruipur, on the city’s southern fringes, forced their way into the two-storey house. They found her naked on her cot, in a dark, stinking first-floor room.
“There was only a mat and two steel plates. It seems she relieved herself inside the room. Her body bore burn marks,” Kaveri said.
“She asked us for food,” Anjali Das added.
“We have arrested her husband Madhu Das, 17-year-old daughter Ananya and mother-in-law Amala. Madhabi has been sent to a rehabilitation centre,” South 24-Parganas police chief S.N. Gupta said.
“We are probing the neighbours’ charge that she hadn’t been allowed out for 15 years. We’ll know about her mental condition after a doctor examines her tomorrow.”
Madhabi had got married about 20 years ago. Soon Madhu, who then owned a garment shop, allegedly started torturing her for dowry. Seven years ago, the neighbours called the police.
Madhabi revealed the torture and confinement, which would have been in its eighth year, and Madhu was arrested. But he was freed on bail and the beatings turned worse.
“Around five years ago, everything went quiet and we thought they had shifted her elsewhere,” neighbour Bishwabandhu Chatterjee said.
After Kaveri recognised her last Sunday, she told her lawyer husband Shyamal and the couple went to the local club, Sangram Sangha.
“Today, her husband tried to stop us, but we forced our way in. The room was locked, so we called the police,” Bishwabandhu said.