Back from Kathua rally, prey to squall

File picture of Ambreen Jawed

Calcutta: Ambreen Jawed went to a candlelight march on Tuesday evening to protest against the rape and murder of a child in Kathua in Jammu. The 25-year-old Topsia resident walked with some 400 people of various age groups and from different faiths, from St Paul's Cathedral to the Gandhi statue on Mayo Road.

On her way home, she took an autorickshaw from Chandni Chowk to Lohapool around 7.40pm, when a storm burst upon the city and snowballed into a squall with a wind speed of 98kmph. Around five minutes later near Jyoti Cinema on Lenin Sarani, a tree fell on the auto.

Ambreen died on the spot. So did the driver, Mohammad Manwar Alam. Another passenger, Ambreen's cousin Shahbaz Alam, suffered multiple fractures in his legs.

Ambreen, who was pursuing an MPhil in English literature from Calcutta University, ran an education programme for underprivileged children in Topsia along with her uncle, Zahid Mahmood.

"She read newspapers for hours every day. She was aghast about the Kathua incident and was determined to attend the rally on Tuesday evening," Zahid told The Telegraph outside the police morgue behind Mohammed Ali Park, where the post-mortem was conducted on Wednesday. He was waiting with Ambreen's brothers to complete the formalities and take her body.

The state government put the storm toll across Bengal at 18. At least 11 of the deaths were in Calcutta and Howrah.

As many as six persons died in Howrah on Tuesday night, falling prey to the strong winds that uprooted trees and left a trail of disaster in the twin city on the other side of the river Hooghly. Khushi Maurya, 16, the youngest among the six, died when a live wire snapped and fell on her while she was waiting near a bus stop.

Several parts of Calcutta's fringes went without power through the day. Officially, over 250 trees had been uprooted in Calcutta and Salt Lake alone.

Ambreen had exchanged messages with her friends about the event the night before. "Ambreen was a role model. She would not even take the occasional peek at others' scripts during an exam," said Pragati Gupta, her friend and classmate at the university.

"She wanted to teach English in a college," said Mahmood, a social worker who took premature retirement from a government job. "I would get her to read the drafts of my letters. She always made some corrections," he said.

Ambreen worked along with Mahmood in some of his projects. Giving free tuitions to children from slums and other marginalised sections was part of that. "She believed education was empowerment," said Mohammad Arsalan Jawed, her younger brother.

She had boarded the auto when the squall started to gain strength. The storm with a peak wind speed of 98kmph and blinding rain left a trail of death and destruction.

The auto she was travelling in was mangled badly and the entire top portion was missing. The tree fell on a wall of a dilapidated building and came crashing down along with the debris on the auto.

Her father has taken ill after hearing the news.

"Ambreen was one of the most progressive faces in the class. She was a brilliant mind. I still can't believe she is no more," Calcutta University professor Chinmoy Guha said.


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