Sentenced Before The Verdict

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Senior Supreme Court advocate and former aap leader Prashant Bhushan questions the judiciary and the government. “The entire bail procedure is arbitrary. The courts grant bail to whoever they want. Class prejudice is a reality in our courts. A rich or educated person gets bail easily but not someone coming from the lower class. He has to run from one court to another for years. Governments also influence the judiciary. The courts often deny bail to please the government, especially in the case of political prisoners.”

When Awanish Dev was burnt to death in the Manesar factory, the Congress under the then chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda was in power in Haryana. Hooda appointed senior Supreme Court lawyer KTS Tulsi as special public prosecutor. An rti query revealed that the government paid Tulsi 11 lakh for each hearing while his three assistants were paid 66,000 each. In two years, the government ended up paing 5 crore in fees alone.

Following the regime change last year that brought the bjp to power, the case was taken away from Tulsi’s charge. Haryana Labour and Employment Minister Captain Abhimanyu was not available for comment despite repeated attempts to contact him.

Meanwhile, it is an endless wait for justice for the families of workers who have been released on bail and those who are still behind bars. Amit Kumar, a worker who was released on bail this month, tells Tehelka, “Why do you want to meet me now? You never came to interview my family when I was in jail and my father was sick. Now that I am out, you want an interview. I don’t want to meet you. I have nothing to say. I am free now and my family is doing well. You don’t have to worry about them now.”

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“It feels good to be home after two years. My family was devastated when I was put behind bars as a criminal for no fault of mine. It was a harsh life and I don’t want to think about it,” says 26-year-old Kamal Singh, his eyes welling up with tears. “They had all rejoiced when I landed a job with Maruti. Now see what it came to? Today, I am jobless and have no savings. I, my wife and our daughter are totally dependent on my father.”

Kamal Singh  Granted Bail on 15 April
Kamal Singh
Granted Bail on 15 April

On the morning of 17 August 2012, a month after the rioting at the Manesar factory, some plainclothesmen picked up Kamal and later arrested him. He was imprisoned for 34 months before getting bail on 15 April 2015.

“It was 5.30 am when my father woke me up,” he recalls. “The plainclothesmen were knocking at the door. It took me some time to figure out what they wanted. My mother was crying and father was going crazy begging them to let me be. ‘You are making a mistake. My son had nothing to do with the violence,’ he said again and again. They told my mother that they were only taking me for questioning and I would be back soon. But I knew they were going to arrest me. They showed me no warrant nor informed the local police.”

Kamal’s mother is a diabetic and it got worse during his imprisonment. Close by, his two-year-old daughter is playing with a cellphone. Kamal’s wife was pregnant with their first child when he was arrested. Two months later, a daughter was born. “My father told me. When I chose her name, I had not seen her even once. I saw her for the first time after I was freed.”

Kamal’s 55-year-old father Dharam Pal is a Class IV employee with the Delhi government. After his son’s arrest, life turned into an endless rigmarole between his job, his family and the courts. “It was exhausting,” he recalls. “All that running around was a little too much for my tired bones but one glimpse of my son was enough to rejuvenate me. I wanted to do all I could to get him out.”

Dharam Pal approached several reputed Supreme Court lawyers. “I met around 30-35 of them. They charge 5-7 lakh for each hearing. Some demand Rs 1 lakh just for a meeting. In fact, I met one big-shot lawyer who asked for 21 lakh per hearing. His assistant settled for 10 lakh but demanded a cheque in advance for five hearings. He said even if the boy gets his bail in the first hearing, they won’t refund the rest of the fees. Another top lawyer demanded 31 lakh. When we asked to meet him personally, we were told to deposit 5 lakh for a 10-minute meeting. That’s when I realised we could not afford to file our plea in the Supreme Court.”

The family landed in a financial soup and Dharam Pal had to borrow a huge sum. “Now we have to pay back a debt of 5-7 lakh,” he says.

So who was responsible for all this? “It’s nobody’s fault. We must be paying for our own sins,” Dharam Pal says and breaks down.

Out of jail, other worries haunt Kamal. He has to find a job to make ends meet. And time is fast running out.

“Not a single person testified against me in the court, yet I had to spend 34 months behind bars,” he says. “Who would compensate us for what I and my folks had to endure all this while? Will the policemen and the real culprits ever be brought to justice?”

Naresh Kumar  Released on bail on 15 May
Naresh Kumar
Released on bail on 15 May

“I was in police custody in September 2014 when I went to see my mother at the hospital. She died two days later. My family tells me she was calling out my name just before she took her last breath. But I could not be there at her side. I performed her last rites in police custody and was sent back to jail,” recalls Naresh Kumar, a resident of Haryana’s Kaithal district. He blames the “system” for the trauma he and his folks went through.

Several questions bother him. For instance, if his innocence is proved in the court’s verdict, who will compensate for the years he spent in jail? “If it were not for my brothers, my wife and children wouldn’t have a roof over their heads today. In our country, a guilty Salman Khan can get bail easily, but people like us rot in jail. Salman has so much money that even his imprisonment would not affect his family. But I am not rich. My crime was not proved but I served a sentence. Today, I am jobless. If my innocence is proved, will they give me my job at Maruti? Will I be paid the salary for the past two years?”

Naresh claims he was on leave on the day their manager was burnt to death. “I had gone to attend a relative’s wedding,” he says. “But when I came to know that the police were looking for me, I went to the police station. I had no clue they would arrest me and keep me behind bars for 30 months.”

The police, however, claim they arrested Naresh from the factory. “They say they arrested everyone from Manesar. That is a lie,” he says. “The case has been three years in the court and the verdict is awaited. We hope the truth will come out.” The final hearing is scheduled for July.

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Translated from Tehelka Hindi by Naushin Rehman

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