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Shudder street

Shudder street

Author: Imran Ahmed Siddiqui
Publication: The Telegraph
Date: February 18, 2007
URL: http://www.telegraphindia.com/1070218/asp/calcutta/story_7406290.asp

Introduction: Foreign tourists get offers they can't refuse in Sudder Street. Even if they do, they are at the mercy of the tight crime network

A profusely-bleeding French tourist, Chimgainy Yoan, was found in Sudder Street on the night of February 4, his throat slit. His story is a heady cocktail of dope, drink and disaster. But not as heady as the street.

Yoan, 30, a hospital-worker, had checked into a Sudder Street hotel a day before the incident. His wife, Caillon Nayyma, who had travelled to the city with him, had checked into a separate hotel in the same street. She wouldn't stay with him because they fought over his drug addiction.

Yoan took off on his own. "He was introduced to two women drug peddlers by a youth claiming to be a guide in the area," said Hiren Das, officer-in-charge, New Market police station. Around 6 pm, Yoan met a woman who had promised to supply ganja. When she arrived at 6 pm with another woman, they went to a Collin Street flat, where he drank with them and had ganja. They ate at a Park Street restaurant and returned to the flat where two men were also present. Yoan had ganja again and wanted to visit a brothel.

"With the two men he hired a cab from Mirza Ghalib Street. Yoan didn't remember what happened after that. The men snatched his wallet and handbag containing Rs 6,000 and two credit cards," an officer said. "When he resisted, they slit his throat with a razor. The couple left the city two days after the incident. We are yet to zero in on the gang behind it," said Das.

On Friday morning, Tirje Lillehaug, 58, a scientist from Norway, was robbed of his wallet and belongings at a guest house on Sudder Street. A week before, three youths met him and introduced themselves as guides. The police said that they stole his wallet and bag, which contained two digital cameras worth Rs 1.5 lakh, from his room.

Coming to India

Sudder Street, which runs off Chowringhee Road behind Indian Museum, is the budget-hotel destination of Calcutta. Hotels and guest houses are packed with foreigners seeking cheap "nirvana". Travel guides, websites and word of mouth recommend Sudder Street, if with a warning against beggars. Cheap hotels are the main draw - dorm beds are available at Rs 200 to Rs 300, rooms below Rs 900.

The street is a trap for the white tourist, who is smothered with offers. He is offered ganja or drugs - he doesn't have to try. "I found out about Sudder Street through Lonely Planet," said a 20-year-old American man. "But everywhere we are offered hashish. It becomes really annoying."


Some don't like it, some do. Some come for it. A 19-year-old Spanish woman said she came with a certain expectation. "We have bought some hashish here. There's an obvious market for drugs here," she said.

She liked the place: "Compared to other cities I don't find it so bad." She is echoed by a 21-year-old English man: "I have bought some hash on Sudder Street. The streets are teeming with pushers after dark. I wouldn't say Sudder Street felt threatening."


But drugs, sex or not, there's no escaping the menace. Cooped up in a dingy Sudder Street cyber cafe, Anny Ovens is "terribly scared". A young woman from Washington, Anny is spellbound by India, but yet to overcome what happened on Tuesday. "Two youths snatched my wallet while I was returning from Park Street around 9 pm. They even tried to molest me when I resisted. To my utter shock I spotted the two moving around two tourists in the area the very next morning," she said. The hotel-owner took her to Park Street to lodge a complaint.

Issac, an Israeli tourist, said: "It's so scary as you never know when you would be robbed. I think tourist police here is a must." Many remember the incident when two youths on a motorcycle molested two Irish women in Sudder Street, dragging them by their hands and making obscene gestures.

Neat network

The foreigner can be attacked so easily and frequently because of the efficient crime network.

The police said there are four to five groups in the area involved in all the crimes. "The area behind Sudder Street is a popular hangout for many criminals, especially from Bangladesh, some of whom have made Calcutta their home," deputy commissioner (detective department) Gyanwant Singh said. Police records said Munna Ali alias Guddu, Langda Raju, Mohammed Aslam, Rakesh and Osman are some of the biggest goons.

"They have formed separate gangs. Munna and Aslam are Bangladeshis and have been arrested twice in robbery and extortion cases. Langda Raju and two of his gang members were involved in robbery," a detective department officer said.

These goons have contacts with hotel-owners and guest houses in Sudder Street, Mirza Ghalib Street, New Market and Collin Street. Barbers' shops and small restaurants in Sudder Street and in the lanes and by-lanes branching out serve as pick-up joints that come with drugs, women and sometimes children.

"Many incidents are not even reported," an officer said.

Lingo link

One way to hook the foreigner is through his language. The criminals, like the beggars in Sudder Street, have picked up English, Japanese, French and German words and introduce themselves as "guides".

In 2004, a person called Mohammed Naushad, posing as a guide, raped a Japanese tourist at gunpoint in her hotel room in Sudder Street and fled with her money and belongings. The victim contacted the Japanese consulate and lodged a complaint with the police. Naushad is behind bars and the trial is going on. The youths who robbed the Norwegian scientist on Friday, too, knew not only English, but also a bit of French and German.

Women peddlers

The police said that the new trend is to use women drug peddlers, two of whom Yoan is likely to have met. "The druglords are using poor women, as no one would suspect them, allowing them to escape easily. Foreigners buy drugs from them and later fall into their trap," said an officer of the narcotics cell of the detective department. Three women peddlers were arrested near Indian Museum two months ago.

The drug route is well-defined, too. Most of the cocaine, hashish and marijuana come from Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, police said. "Drug-traffickers from other states and Bangladesh stay in guest-houses in Sudder Street and Mirza Ghalib Street. Two persons were arrested from a guest house last month and heroin worth Rs 50,000 was seized from them," said a police officer.

Tourist request

The tourists have tried to do their bit. "We have several letters from foreign tourists asking for policemen as guides. They are scared after reading stories of tourists like them," said Kuldiep Singh, joint commissioner (administration). The New Market and Park Street police stations said they have received several requests from foreigners to provide police guides in Sudder Street. "Complaints of foreigners being cheated are so common that many cases are not registered," an officer said.

Other metros have tourist police. "In Delhi and Bangalore the tourist police sporting an armband are posted at the airport, railway stations and other popular tourist spots and help tourists with information. This checks crime a great deal," a senior IPS officer at Lalbazar said.

A 40-something Swedish man, a professional junkie who spent his youth travelling around India, has wound up in Sudder Street, where he lives on the cheap heroin that comes into the city. "Every now and then I go to Nepal or Bangladesh to renew my visa, with the occasional trip back to Sweden. Drugs are cheap and good on Sudder Street and it is very easy to become anonymous in this part of the city, so it is to my advantage to stay around here."

(Imran Ahmed Siddiqui with inputs from Patrick Pringle)

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