Auto drivers cherry-picking passengers, charging exorbitant rates and behaving boorishly is — though by no means acceptable — quite commonplace in the city. But yesterday, several members of the tribe further tarnished their already chequered record.
A group of family and friends returning from a visit to Ajmer Sharif dargah underwent a traumatic experience, after several auto drivers assaulted them with hockey sticks and iron rods. The victims allege that after they alighted at Bandra terminus, not only did several autowallahs refuse to ferry them, but they also passed lewd remarks at a female member. When they confronted the miscreants, the auto drivers allegedly retaliated by attacking them.
After the weary travellers lodged a complaint, Nirmal Nagar police arrested three auto drivers, while two others are absconding. “We have registered a case under several sections of assault and unlawful assembly. We have arrested three auto drivers and two are on the run. The licence plate numbers of those two is available with us, and we will trace them soon,” said Balwant Deshmukh, inspector with Nirmal Nagar police station. The arrested auto drivers have been identified as Sunil Sharma, Rajesh Sharma and Vijay Mishra.
From bad to worse
The ordeal began at 7 am when Kherwadi, Bandra (East) residents Imran Sheikh (21), Custodio Fernandez (23), Sylvester Rodriguez (21), his mother, two aunts and friend Ghulam Asrafi (21) came out of the railway terminus. “I approached one of the auto drivers to ply us to Kherwadi, but he refused. He directed me to another driver, but he too snubbed us. Almost 10 autowallahs turned down our requests,” said Imran.
Dejected by the events, the group began to walk towards their destination when one of the drivers allegedly passed a lewd comment directed at Sylvester’s mother, which enraged the group. “It was horrible and disgusting, as they [drivers] were all passing disparaging remarks and laughing. We approached them and asked why they were behaving this way,” said Imran.
Women attacked too
Soon the auto drivers grouped together and allegedly started assaulting the victims with hockey sticks and iron rods. When the women tried to intervene, the auto drivers thrashed them too. Imran said, “When I announced that we will go to the police, they said ‘Go wherever you want. We don’t care. We rule here’.”
Some local residents alleged that auto drivers operating at the terminus have been harassing commuters since long. Several complaints have been made to the local police station, but no action has been taken. “They block the entire exit outside the station and pass comments at women. They operate in such a huge group that it becomes difficult for commuters to question them,” said a local resident.