Molestation, beating young and old- the new assigned role of the autowallas in Kolkata.

City of Joy +Autowallas= City of Bhoy (Fear)

City of Joy-Kolkata has become a city of ‘Bhoy’ because of the violence triggered off by the autowallas of this city. Autos and Kolkata share a quintessential camaraderie. If Kolkata is the store house to heritage legacies, autos add to the whimsical charm of this post colonial city. These three legged passenger friendly modes of transport is the communication membrane of the city- Kolkata. Though autos thrive to be one of the best chosen modes of transport for the middle class; the continual harassment of the passengers by the autowallas has been alarming. The city of Bhodrolok, intellect, culture has been now aptly  known as the city of fear, horror and uncouth savagery.Thanks to Auto-cracy!

Rash Driving

In a recent incident on 17 April, a young man was supposedly punched in the face and struck with a heavy rod of iron by a gang of auto drivers when an auto that was running at high speed threw him off his bike and he protested against this rash driving. Sadhu, the accused auto driver taunted Arnab, the victim by saying-“ Amake police er bhoy dekhachish? Arrest Korabi?” (Trying to scare me by taking the name of the police? Are you planning to arrest me?) It’s striking to note that Kolkata not only unites culturally during a Kolkata Knight Riders’ match or to shout for Dada (Sourav Ganguly)!  Even the autowallas unite under the penumbra of Union! When the political flag and coloured/union backed autowallas unite and act as goons; common man is indeed a toy in front of such tsunami like rage and violence. Similar thing happened with Arnab, who was abruptly encircled by five autowallas and all of a sudden he was threatened that either they would like to see him vanish within the twinkle of an eye or he would get beaten up.  As Arnab stood his ground, he faced a similar fate like many other fellow kolkattans. The gang of autowallas, err goons thrashed him, slashed at him, and left a four inch scar on Arnab’s left chest  as a token of their chivalrous heroism!

19hallbox Auto Bullies and The City of Joy!

Arnab- Beaten and thrashed by Autowallas

Feud over ‘change’ and Violence on Female Passengers

Kolkata isn’t immune to violence on women- is but a known fact, but the recent cases of autowallas molesting women and misbehaving with women is sure to shock kolkattans from the dormancy of complacency. Whenever gender based violence happened, this city had never been a silent spectator to the ongoing anarchy and currently the arranged violence of the autowallas on women and the protest of the female passengers is a proof to this.  On January 15, an auto rickshaw driver was arrested for allegedly molesting and beating a female passenger after the two had a heavy strife over the fare. The 24 year lady was unable to provide change and offered a fifty rupee change to Akhil Jana, the autowalla, and he punched her and molested her as a punishment for her deed!

Transport Minister Madan Mitra clarified: “We condemn such incident and have already arrested the driver, and have slapped him with non-bailable sections.” Again on 20th January, an auto-rickshaw driver was arrested for beating a woman with an iron road on her head after the two had a heated exchange over change.  The most pitiable thing and Irony is that, West Bengal is currently being headed by a Female Chief Minister who came to power with the mantra ‘ma mati manush’ and she is unable to give protection to the fellow feminine genders who are universally ‘ ma’ or the mother.

We have Political Jhanda + Dada! Our Attitude= Devil May Care!

The autowallas have been basking in super self confidence. You don’t need any nerd or wise owl to explain the obvious reason.  Owing to the fact that they are safely housed under the flag of any local MLA or ‘dada’; the autowalas have pocketed power and arrogance. Hence, the devil may care attitude. Backed by political parties, autowallas are hardly afraid to molest women or beat up passengers and in fact, their attitude at times is quirky enough to let you understand, it’s you who need them, not vice versa!  “Auto drivers know they would receive their union’s support if traffic-violation cases are slapped on them,” said Anandi Chatterjee of Phoolbagan. “Unless this political patronage is stopped and the police are allowed to crack the whip, it would be difficult to rein in auto drivers.”

At times, on several routes, autos demand a fare that is next to impossible, or is no match with the current chart. Or even worse, you may face their starry tantrums, when they tell you “Jetey hoi reservation e cholun, noiley noy”. (If you want to go, reserve, then only I will go)! The regular changes in fare are sure to make your pressure, high or even better invite for yourself a feud with these goons. Have a glass of chilled water, put on the AC, and ‘thank’ the State Government:  they have launched a number – 1073 –for the victims to register complaints. (So kind of them) “If an auto rickshaw driver misbehaves with you, just dial 1073 and lodge a complaint with the police control. You don’t have to remember the number of the auto. Police will find it,”– says Madan Mitra, the Transport Minister.

AutoWallas and ‘auto-cracy’

According to the police sources, several auto unions, even those affiliated to the ruling party, are openly violating the rules laid down by the transport department. An auto rickshaw driver who drives his auto from Esplanade to Park Circus confirms:  “We have been instructed by our leader not to follow any instruction of the transport minister.” It is clear that the state is unable to check the autocracy and the despotism of the auto wallas.  The Frankenstein effect??? A big question lies unanswered!

“Another reason for the auto-operators’ brazenness is that they are strongly united. It is their key to survival. No politician can afford to ignore the collective force of autos. This is the reason why so many illegal autos ply in the city and its fringes” opines Shankar Das.

“It is only because of the leniency showed to them by cops that they behave so recklessly. Traffic police look the other way when autos rule the streets. Auto-operators also get the protection of the trade-union of the ruling party. Just before the change of regime in the state, auto-operators had deserted the Citu, en-masse, and joined the Trinamool’s trade union wing INTTUC. The solid political patronage deterred police from taking strong action against autos,” said Shankar Das, a transport economist.

‘Change’: Much Ado About Nothing

Very obviously, ‘Change’ here is not referred to ‘poriborton’ or the political change that painted Kolkata from Red to Green. Somendra Mohan Ghosh, an automobile expert, is of the opinion that most of the feud of the passengers with the autowallas happen because of the unavailability of change from both the parties. “We have done a survey and found that small change is certainly a problem with auto operators. But change is a problem that needs to be handled by the Reserve Bank of India. Why should a commuter suffer for that? But we need to have stronger regulation on autos. Autos must have the phone number of the owner, so that a harassed commuter can call up the owner and lodge a complaint,”- Somendra Confirms. So lack of change has been leading to heated ‘exchange’! Solutions lie only with RBI! Autowalla’s please spare us, and have a talk with the RBI, for a change!

 The Role of the State Government

“Autos are crossing all limits,” said transport minister Madan Mitra. “I have requested police to slap stricter charges even if there’s only a little shoving. We are thinking of taking serious measures against rogue auto drivers.”  Again, while he assured that he will look into the matter vigilantly after the polls, he opined –“The state government will not tolerate any nuisance caused by auto drivers. Ultadanga, Rajarhat, New Town and Salt Lake would be treated as a special zone and no disturbance to public life will be tolerated. The wrong-doing auto drivers will be prosecuted, irrespective of their union affiliations. I am aware that auto drivers charge exorbitant rates in this area, sometimes even Rs 50 for a ride, which is too much for the common man to pay.”

The Blame Game

The fun continues as Madan Mitra blames the former ruling party CPIM for the current woes of the passengers. According to him, it is because of the CPIM, who had inculcated the practice of self devised fares for autowallas and not on meters. “Throughout India, auto-rickshaws operate using the metering system except here in Calcutta. Now if we introduce the system here, then people will have a problem, as the rate is bound to increase. But we would see to it that a balance is maintained between the two fare systems so that neither auto drivers and nor common people are affected,” said Mitra.

Last Words

Kolkata is going to polls on 12th May, and we, kolkattans are eagerly waiting to see the greatest comedy circus of democracy, that comes for free. However, we are even skeptical of the fact that this city is losing its colour pretty fast-colours of joy, of generosity and of empathy! Hope, after the elections, the transport minister takes some steps to metamorphose the city of ‘bhoy’ to joy again!

By Adrita Dey Ghatak

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