On a hot afternoon in March, the 20-year-old was in her kitchen, cradling her two-month-old baby. Her husband Samir Haoladar, a farmer, was working in the fields. Her single-storey tin house in Kalna, in West Bengal’s East Burdwan district, is a little distance away from the main road, hidden behind mango trees and fenced gardens.
A man in his forties arrived on his bike and knocked on the woman’s door. He claimed he wanted to read the electricity meter. Reluctantly, she agreed to let him in.
Almost immediately, her worst fears came true. The man allegedly whipped out a steel chain and strangled her. Then, he smashed her head against the floor repeatedly and punched her face. Convinced she was dead, he began to undress her. Just then, the 20-year-old, who had been trying to fake her death, got up and raised an alarm. Shocked, the man fled the house and escaped on his bike.
“I haven’t been able to sleep at night since that day (March 31). I get nightmares of being murdered and raped. I cannot stay alone in the house. I want nothing but death penalty for him,” she says.
Last week, her attacker, Kamruzzaman Sarkar, 42, was arrested by the West Bengal Police for murdering at least seven women and having sex with their corpses, besides injuring several others over the past five months in and around East Burdwan and the neighbouring Hooghly district. He has been booked under IPC Sections 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder) and 376 (rape), and is now in 12-day police custody.
A scrap trader and father of three, Sarkar, who originally hails from Murshidabad district, settled in Kalna two years ago. For the past five months, say police, the 42-year-old followed the same modus operandi. After a recce, he would turn up outside the house he wanted to target and ask for permission to read the electricity meter. He would then attack the women and, after murdering them, say police, attempt to have sex with their bodies. Later, he would leave the homes after stealing valuable items.
Police say he chose his prey carefully and usually struck in the afternoons, when the men of the houses were away at work. He also chose homes not far away from the main road, giving him an easy escape route if things did not go as planned. Also, he chose homes that were surrounded by fields and gardens, and which had no other homes in the vicinity.
Police, who had been tracking the case for a while, finally arrested Sarkar on June 2 based on the CCTV footage recovered from near the house of one of the victims. In the footage, Sarkar is seen in a red helmet, riding a red bike with a nylon bag tied to the pillion seat — from the bag, police recovered the chain and iron rod that Sarkar allegedly used to attack his victims.
“Sarkar displayed necrophilic tendencies — so far, we have found that he had sex at least with two women immediately after killing them, and also inserted foreign objects inside their genitals,” says East Burdwan SP Bhaskar Mukherjee.
Police sources say they have found Sarkar’s links with murder cases dating back to 2013 and are now probing them.
During the investigation, some of the victims helped police make a sketch of Sarkar, which was then circulated to all police stations in the area. The probe intensified in May, when three such attacks were reported in less than 10 days in East Burdwan district – a woman was murdered on May 22; another was killed five days later; and on May 30, the accused allegedly attacked a minor who she later succumbed to her injuries. It was from the CCTV footage from outside one of these homes that police identified Sarkar, leading to his arrest.
Sarkar’s victims were aged between 20 and 75, and while seven of them lost their lives, several others escaped the terrible fate. A 44-year-old anganwadi worker was among the lucky ones. “Every time I see a stranger at my doorstep, I feel a shiver down my spine,” she says, sitting at her home in East Burdwan district.
On February 13, when her husband, a CPM worker, was away, Sarkar arrived to “check the electricity meter”. However, his plans hit a wall when Ghosh told him that the meter was outside the house.
“But then he insisted on checking the electronic goods in the house. I refused, but he forced his way inside and started punching my face. As the door of the house was still open, I managed to run outside. He then fled and vanished on his motorbike,” describes the woman, adding that Sarkar “looked like a decent man”.
One of Sarkar’s oldest victim is a 75-year-old from Kalna. She spent 12 days in Kalna Hospital after three of her ribs were broken when Sarkar attacked her on February 1. She then spent four months at her daughter’s home and came back home only recently.
“That day, my son had gone to the fields and my daughter-in-law was attending a wedding. He forced himself in and grabbed me by my neck… He sat on my back, banged my head against the floor and punched me. Fortunately, someone came to my house just then. He hurriedly took my gold bangles and fled,” she recalls.
She has been wary of staying alone at home since that day. “I shudder everytime I hear a knock on the door in the afternoon,” she says.
At their home in Kalna, Sarkar’s wife Jahanara Bibi says, “He would go out in the afternoons, but we had no idea that he was out killing women. Whenever he returned, there was nothing about his behaviour that made us suspect anything. If he did what he did, we want strong action against him.”