There was little remarkable about the lanky Sourav Chowdhury except his nearly 6-ft height. A second-year BA student of Mrinalini Dutta College at Birati in North 24 Parganas, the 19-year-old was a soft-spoken and obedient son. Perhaps it was his helpful nature, they say, that drove him to join a group fighting against illicit liquor syndicates and the menace they posed in his village Bamangachhi of North 24 Parganas, about 40 km from Kolkata. Perhaps it was the fact that the syndicates had expanded their activities to an alley just next to his house. On the night of July 4, Chowdhury was found killed, his body chopped into pieces and thrown onto railway tracks nearby.
Chowdhury had been kidnapped and taken away from his home. An autopsy report confirmed he was tortured before his death and strangulated.
Suspicion fell on the local liquor syndicates. About eight months ago, some youths of Bamangachhi had formed a group to take on the syndicates, and their high-handedness. Chowdhury and elder brother Sanjeeb had been among its first members. “What started as a group of 10 persons has grown to over 80 youth members. They not only speak up against any injustice, but also engage in social work such as blood donation,” says Indrajit Kundu, a member and Chowdhury’s friend.
Shyamal Karmakar, the main accused in Chowdhury’s murder, has allegedly set up many illicit liquor dens, operating in an alley adjoining the Chowdhury home.
“They would break the bulbs of lamp-posts so that the place was dark and they could work undisturbed. They would often tease women and girls of the locality,” says Kundu. Trouble-makers of the village took to hanging around the liquor outlets.
An elderly villager who didn’t want to be identified said Chowdhary and his group had come to the rescue of many. “Be it an ailing person who had to be rushed to hospital in the middle of the night, or any family being bullied by goons, they would help out all.”
Last month, things came to a head. “On June 14, Karmakar and his men were confronted by more than 50 residents of the locality about the streetlights being damaged. He denied any hand in it. Later at night, he returned in an inebriated state, started hurling abuses and beat up elderly persons. We protested, and Karmakar and his friends were beaten up by locals. Sourav was among those who beat him and his men. Karmakar was looking for revenge,” says Kundu.
Sanjeeb says he and Sourav joined the group fighting against the liquor dens because these had become hotbeds of crime. “The increase in hooch sales and forceful land acquisitions were the main reasons we joined. There seemed to be no stopping the criminals, who clearly had the support of police continued…