Monday, 30th October 2017

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'Won't be a victim & be found dead'

JU girl fights off assaulter

By Snehal Sengupta
  • Published 7.07.16
The spot (circled) near the Sen Mahasay bus stop in Salt Lake’s Sector I where the woman jumped out of the cab and fought off driver Santu Pramanik (right), who had threatened her with rape.
(Mayukh Sengupta)

The taxi was racing down a desolate Salt Lake road when the driver threatened his passenger: "Rape korey debo (Will rape you)."

The 27-year-old woman in the back seat steeled herself. She had learnt self-defence in school. She would fight back.

"I won't be a victim and be found dead in the bushes by the roadside," these were the Jadavpur University student's exact thoughts when her ordeal had started.

The driver of the Uber cab was abusing her even as he steered the vehicle into any desolate lane that he thought suited his nefarious plan. But he hadn't reckoned on her resolve to retaliate the way she did.

The woman hit him hard, jumped out of the car and struck him again when he lunged at her a second time.

This was near Salt Lake's AE Block on Monday night. Driver Santu Pramanik, 28, was arrested on Tuesday within hours of the woman lodging a complaint and remanded in judicial custody for a fortnight the next day.

The young woman recounted to Metro how she summoned the courage to fight before fear and helplessness could take over.

I had got into the Uber cab with a friend outside the SN Bose Centre of Basic Sciences in JD Block of Salt Lake around 10.20pm on Monday.

My friend got off at the Bypass-Beleghata crossing and I asked the driver to head towards AE Block through Broadway. When he took a detour near IB Block, I protested. He went into a wrong lane again moments later, this time near FE Block.

I realised that his attitude had changed all of a sudden after my friend got off. He was now driving rashly and going wherever he wanted. He swerved the car left and right several times as we approached the Bijan Bhawan traffic island, around 2km from where my friend had got off the car.

I asked the driver why he was driving this way but he kept quiet. When he suddenly tried to take a left turn after crossing the FE island, I firmly told him to stay on Broadway Road.

I was apprehensive about the change in the driver's behaviour but did not panic. I had a picture of the driver on my phone and I could report him to the authorities.

What I wasn't sure of yet was when to react: should I press the panic button now or is it too early?

Little did I know that things would get worse so quickly.

As soon as the cab reached the Sen Mahasay bus stop in Sector I, close to where I live, I asked the driver to take a left turn into the lane leading to my house. He told me that since my address wasn't showing on his GPS map, he would drop me wherever he wished. And he drove on towards the CAP Camp island.

I protested and demanded that he stop the car immediately, at which he, in a cold voice, replied that if I tried to scream, he would rape me and dump my body in a ditch. He also told me that he had done this to several women before.

I rolled down the window and screamed for help. I was seated behind the driver and he pushed his seat a few notches back to cramp my legs. He then reached out to grab me.

I jumped out of the moving car just as it slowed down in front of Rahmania restaurant, some 50 metres from the Sen Mahasay bus stop. The driver braked, got off and tried to push me back into the car.

I had taken self-defence lessons in school around 15 years ago and all that training suddenly came in handy. I remembered that I had to hit him hard on his shin bone to stop him and kick the back of his knees to make him fall.

I mustered all my strength and targeted his shin bone and the back of his knees. He seemed stunned by my fightback and I ran. My tormentor tried to stop me by getting into the car and reversing at speed but I jumped out of the way. He sped away as a car's headlights appeared in the distance.

Once I was home, I narrated the incident to my mother and called my friend. I also reported the incident through the "Rate your Ride" feature on the Uber app. An official called me on Tuesday evening to say that the driver had been suspended. I asked him why he hadn't been removed. The official told me that my assailant's cab would henceforth not show up on my app even if he were back on Uber duty. I was flabbergasted!

On Tuesday, I lodged a police complaint. I have done what I needed to but I am yet to get over what happened that night.

Police probe: The white Maruti Suzuki Dzire driven by Santu is registered with the Alipore RTO. Investigators arrested the driver after getting the vehicle owner, Niloy Banerjee, to call him over to his house. "Our teams routinely patrol the township and check vehicles," said Santosh Pandey, deputy commissioner of the detective department, Bidhannagar police.

Uber's response: "We have shared the driver and trip details with the police and will continue to support the investigations, as required. The driver has been blocked from using our platform," said a spokesperson for Uber.

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