Calcutta, March 24: A woman trying to save herself and her husband from four assailants dialled 100 six times with the appeal " Bhaiya, bacha lijiye (brother, save us)" on Wednesday evening in Kasba but was told to call a police station, she told The Telegraph.
The 22-year-old woman said she was harassed on the road by a group of men smeared with Holi colours and her husband was thrashed for confronting them. A resident gave them shelter but the assailants stood outside and threatened to burn the couple's bike unless they came out, she said.
Enquiries by this newspaper suggest at least one distress call landed in Barasat in North 24-Parganas, not the Calcutta police headquarters in Lalbazar where the calls should have reached and activated rapid response.
The woman's account indicates that not only did all the distress calls not reach the right destination but the person or persons who picked up the phone lacked the training to deal with an emergency.
"I kept telling the officer who took my call 'they will kill us' but he paid no heed," the woman said. "He hung up several times and once said ' hum toh north-se hain, number nikalne me time lagega (I'm from the north, it will take time to find out the number from the logbook)'."
Eventually, a person called back and gave her the number of Tiljala police station.
The landline number from which the woman said she had received the call is registered in the name of the Barasat-based control room of North 24-Parganas police.
Those who attended the calls should have alerted Lalbazar on their own. Handing over the number of a police station and expecting a person in distress to dial and get help cannot be part of the emergency response drill.
The man who called back gave the Tiljala police station's number probably because the woman had said she was standing near Tiljala post office.
Tiljala police station actually looks after a neighbouring precinct, not Kasba where the harassment was taking place. Such a clerical detail should not count in activating rescue and relief but they do matter with the jurisdiction-bound police forces in the country.
The call to 100 that every citizen in distress is expected to dial should have gone to Lalbazar in the heart of Calcutta and not to Barasat, which is over 30km from the spot.
In 2011, when an aged woman was killed by robbers in Ultadanga, her neighbour's call had landed somewhere in North 24-Parganas. Lalbazar had then blamed a mismatch between the maps of the police and Calcutta Telephones.
Today, Calcutta police special additional and joint commissioner (headquarters) Supratim Sarkar said: "We will inquire into the matter. Necessary action will be taken if someone is found guilty."
The woman's account is all the more striking because it took place during a festival when the police publicise their helpline numbers.
While the woman made the distress calls between 6pm and 6.09pm, another woman who saw the incident on P. Naskar Lane called the local Kasba police station. Help arrived at 6.15pm - around the same time the Barasat call came with the number of the Tiljala police station.
Kasba police arrested two of the suspects, both in their 20s, while the others fled.
According to the complainant, she was waiting for an auto at Colony Bazar More around 6pm while her husband had gone to drop her mother at a church in Park Circus. "The plan was that my husband would drop my mother first and then me at the church. But I stepped outside hoping to get some public transport," she said.
"I was waiting when a car stopped near me. There were four men inside, smeared in colours, passing lewd remarks. One shouted at me to get in. I looked the other way."
The car sped past her but returned twice and the occupants asked her to get in. By the third attempt, her husband had reached the spot. Sensing she was no longer alone, they tried to speed away.
The husband chased them, intercepted the car and parked his bike in front of it. The four men then allegedly pounced on the man. When his wife ran to his rescue, she was also beaten, she said.
"One uncle in the neighbourhood shouted at us to get into his home and save our lives. We ran inside but when I tried to drag my bike inside the compound, one of them smashed the front light and ripped the wires. We ran inside and the uncle locked the gate," the husband said.
His wife then made the distress calls.