If the festive season brings in joy, it also unleashes demons on the streets, usually in the form of thugs and extortionists, who bully citizens for money to fund their extravaganza. The menace has become an annual ritual in West Bengal in the wake of Kali Puja (celebrated as Diwali in other parts of the country), where recent reports expose the chanda (technically, a voluntary donation) mafia's brutal workings.
The Telegraph sent reporters to three districts in the state to check out the mood on the street and the measures taken by the police to control the situation. What they saw was less than encouraging.
In East Midnapore, trucks were stopped by batches of young men and fixed sums of money demanded of the drivers. Only after they paid up, usually an amount less than the initial demand, they were allowed to get on with their journey. A police officer dismissed such acts as part of life, while police chief of the state promised to be more vigilant regarding these developments.
The scenarios in Nadia and Birbhum were no different, where groups of men threatened to deflate tyres of vehicles if their drivers didn't accede to their demands. Stickers were pasted on the windshields to indicate those who have paid up. According to The Times of India, a mob beat up a doctor in Midnapore for paying only Rs 10 as chanda. Yesterday, in Siliguri, another family alleged they had been thrashed by a group of men for not paying Rs 301, which they had asked as donation.
At least 12 members of the Kali Puja committee attacked a Railway employee and his wife with sticks and rods, punched his sister-in law and slapped his six-year-old son for not paying up the amount they had demanded of them. Neighbours who tried to intervene were subjected to the violence as well.
After the family lodged a complaint with the police, club members, including some women, alleged they hadn't forced anyone for money. On the contrary, they claimed to have been abused by the family and their neighbours.
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