The Telegraph
Thursday , May 1 , 2014
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Screams EC didn’t hear

A homemaker in the heart of Burdwan town recounted on Wednesday how a group of men on bikes surrounded her house around midnight on Tuesday, threw stones, smashed glass panes and threatened to burn two schoolchildren alive because their father was a CPM supporter. “They shouted ‘kaal vote dibi na… bari theke berobi na (Don’t vote tomorrow. Don’t step out of your home),” she says.

The homemaker, who called a relative in Calcutta who happened to be a reporter with The Telegraph at 11.50pm on Tuesday, narrates her plight, followed by the journalist’s account of the challenges she faced while calling for help:

Around 11.30pm, screams from a neighbouring house prompted me to peep out. Men were standing with bikes a few yards away.

They called out my husband’s name, telling him to come out.

He runs a store on our ground floor. He supports the CPM but he is not a party member.

The first stone then hit the iron grille on the ground-floor balcony. Drawn by the noise, my 16-year-old daughter, 14-year-old son and husband came from the dining space to see what was happening. We switched off the lights.

A few seconds of silence were shattered by the sound of bricks hitting windows, one after the other. It lasted around 20 minutes. Suddenly, everything fell silent. Their words were still echoing in my ears: “Kaal vote dibi na… bari theke berobi na (Don’t vote tomorrow. Don’t step out of your home).

That was when I called my relative in Calcutta, who is a journalist. We switched on the light and cautiously opened the verandah door. The courtyard in front was strewn with bricks and glass shards.

My relative called back to say the police had been informed and they should be on the way. But the bikes came back. We again switched off the lights.

They broke the lock on the grille gate that opened into the balcony. Kicks on the main door followed. We rushed into the dining space, locking the connecting door to the living room. One of the attackers shouted: “Reporter-ke bolechhish? Police dekechhish? Dekhi ke bachay toder…. Bachchader jaliye debo (You called a reporter? You called the police? Let’s see who saves you tonight…. Will burn your kids alive).”

From their voices, I could recognise some of them. They were from our very own neighbourhood. People my husband had known since their childhood.

I redialled the number narrating what was happening to us. The kicks became harder as I spoke. They broke into the living room. There was a loud thud. It sounded like our television being slammed to the ground. Glass items were breaking every second and chairs were being hurled.

All this lasted for another 30 minutes before they suddenly decided to withdraw.

This time, we were too scared to step out. After what appeared like an eternity, we heard some vehicles outside our house. It was nearly 1am and my relative again called from Calcutta to say the police were on their way.

We opened the door and switched on the light. It is difficult to describe what I saw in the room. The fridge, the TV, the bed, the showcase, the dressing table, chairs… everything had been broken. We made our way through the glass shards to the main door they had broken open.

Much to our relief, there was the police. There was the SP and the DSP.

It was almost daybreak by the time the senior police officers left, leaving two police vans outside to guard us. Early morning, when neighbours started pouring in, we had an unexpected visitor — a local Trinamul leader — who promised to compensate for the damage once the election was over.

What reporter did

She made a string of calls to people she thought could help.

11.58pm: Called a district police officer in Burdwan. The officer assured force from the local police station. They did not go. Instead, the bikers went back and, from their well-informed threats, they appeared to have had a hotline with the local police.

12.08am: Dialled special election observer Sudhir Kumar Rakesh. The call went unanswered. A text message at 12.12am also elicited no response.

12.25am: Called a senior police officer in Delhi who had earlier served in Calcutta. This officer conveyed the situation to another senior officer in Bengal, who apparently mobilised the force.

12.32am: Found the phone number of the general election observer for Burdwan district from the Election Commission of India website and dialled. The call did not go through to Burdwan-Durgapur constituency general observer Madan S. Kala, less than seven hours from the start of polling.

12.39am: Called Burdwan superintendent of police Meeraz Khalid. He promised action and reached the spot within 15 minutes, accompanied by the DSP.

12.56am: A senior Trinamul minister responded to an SOS call made earlier. He heard the details and promised to check. 10 minutes later, he said: “Don’t worry. They won’t do any harm.”

Election Commission sources said the general observer and the special state observer were both supposed to respond to phone calls and texts. Neither Kala nor special observer Rakesh could be reached for comment on Wednesday.