When some police officers asked Milan Molla to choose between the tag of "terrorist" and a Rs 1.5-lakh bribe, the slum-dweller knew he had to pay or perish.
"They raided our house on August 6 and took me to an SSPD (Special Staff of Port Division) outpost. They threatened to book me for the blast that killed four of my family members three days earlier unless I gave in to their demand," he told Metro on Friday.
Milan had lost his younger brother Deedar, cousins Ramzan and Shaqib, and granduncle Hasan in the freak blast in Cossipore on August 3. Deedar and Ramzan were trying to break open a discarded shell they had brought home from the banks of the Hooghly when the blast occurred. Commissioner of police Gautam Mohan Chakrabarti and other senior officials had ruled out a terrorist link in the incident that very night.
But a group of policemen from the wing that tracks criminal activity in the port area then laid a terror trap for the illiterate Milan. With her son in lock-up and nobody around to help, mother Anwara Bibi borrowed Rs 35,000 and paid the first instalment to an officer.
"What else could I have done? We were still in mourning when they were back at our door to pick up my son," Anwara, 50, said.
According to Anwara, Milan's father-in-law Ayub contributed Rs 10,000 and the rest of the money came from a relative, Musha Ali, and a local trader.
The incident remained under wraps until a fortnight ago, when CPM leader Mohammad Salim visited Cossipore and some residents of the locality told him about Milan's ordeal. The MP immediately took up the case with the police top brass, who promised an inquiry.
"I had gone to Cossipore to attend a meeting when I was told how the family was being harassed. I met Milan and his mother. They narrated how the police team had framed Milan. I was surprised to hear that they were forced to pay Rs 35,000. I called up the police commissioner and asked him to look into the matter," Salim said.
Commissioner Chakrabarti met the Molla family at Lalbazar the next day.
Rattled by the developments, two officers of the SSPD went to Milan's shanty a day later and asked the youth to withdraw his complaint. "The policemen said they would return the money we had paid if I withdrew my complaint. But why should I?" Milan asked, his confidence stemming from Chakrabarti's assurance of justice.
Last Monday, Milan and his mother got a call from the deputy commissioner of the port office, Anand Kumar. "We went there and I identified the person who had taken money from my mother. The deputy commissioner assured me that action would be taken against the policemen who had harassed and tortured me. But I am still scared as they might try to implicate me in another false case for complaining against them," Milan said, holding his year-old son Shabbir tightly in his arms.
Milan, who owns a tea shop and occasionally deals in scrap, had escaped the explosion that killed four members of his family because he had gone to Science City with some friends on that day. The family lives in a 10x10 feet shanty in Jyotinagar, Cossipore.
The commissioner of police said the inquiry was on track and the guilty would not be spared. "The additional commissioner of police, Shivaji Ghosh, is investigating the allegations. We will take action if our officers are found guilty," he told Metro.
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