A mob attack fuelled by a misplaced sense of justice destroyed a railway station and delayed 27 trains after a young ticketless traveller was run over by a train while allegedly fleeing a routine check.
Ashish Jana’s end was tragic — the railways said he jumped on the tracks from platform No. 3 of Bagnan station to escape a ticket check and was crushed under the Falaknuma Express — but what followed bore the Bengal stamp of lawlessness couched in righteous indignation.
In a matter of minutes following the 25-year-old’s death at 8.10am on Monday, a mob estimated to be 1,000-strong descended on this busy station 36km from Howrah to leave a trail of destruction that officials said would cost the railways several lakh rupees to repair.
Glass walls, ticket dispensers, landline phones, computers, printers, timetable boards, electronic indicators and benches — the mob spared nothing. Two ticket checkers, Amar Ghosh and Biswanath Saha, were assaulted. Ghosh is in hospital with critical injuries.
“I was at the exit when I saw my colleague Amar being pursued by 20 or more youths. I tried to intervene but they grabbed him and beat him up,” Saha, who also took a few blows while trying to save his colleague, recounted to Metro.
“The ticket checkers were doing their duty. There can be no justification in such acts of violence. Most of those who went on the rampage weren’t passengers,” station manager Utsab Roy said.
A section of the mob took over the tracks after they were through with vandalising the station. The blockade delayed 15 long-distance and 12 local trains by more than an hour. Ticket sale at Bagnan was suspended for the day because the mob destroyed all the computers and printers.
“We advised commuters who boarded trains here to get off at the next station to buy tickets, but I doubt many of them did. Ticketless travel is rampant on this stretch of the Kharagpur division,” an official said.
Ashish, a car mechanic at a garage near Bagnan, wouldn’t have had to make a fatal run to escape the Monday morning check had he been carrying a ticket that costs Rs 4. He had boarded the Howrah-bound Haldia local at Deulti, two stops before Bagnan. A monthly ticket worth Rs 70 would have entitled him to unlimited rides over that distance. For someone making a to and fro trip every day, that works out to a little over Rs 1 per ride over 30 days.
A senior official of Eastern Railway said ticket checks were being mostly conducted at stations to avoid skirmishes on the move, including instances of passengers assaulting ticket examiners and throwing them off trains. “We have to tread with caution. As Monday proved, there are people looking for a pretext to vandalise public property.”
According to psychologists, the high incidence of vandalism in Bengal reflects a social phenomenon.
“The threshold of patience is becoming shorter. The reasons could range from a difficult life to a grudge against the establishment for supposedly failing to discharge its duties towards citizens,” said Neelanjana Sanyal, a professor in the department of psychology at Calcutta University. “When such people find a reason to give vent to their frustration, they do not spare a thought for the consequences.”
On September 1, residents of a Howrah neighbourhood that was without water for weeks blocked Vidyasagar Setu for over two hours and pelted police with stones, causing miles-long traffic snarls on either side of the bridge. A mob later vandalised the toll plaza.
On the same day, Subroto Chatterjee, the chief inspector (ticketing) of Eastern Railway’s Sealdah division, was assaulted by some vendors when he demanded to see their tickets. He had to be hospitalised with head and stomach injuries.