Monday, June 19, 2006 (Tezpur):
Sifting through the court and prison records brings out all kinds of horror stories of men and women who have simply vanished in the Byzantine maze of India's legal bureaucracy.
For instance, the story of Machal Lalung, a prisoner from Assam, who spent so long in jail that nobody remembers why he was imprisoned in the first place. Moreover, no one came to claim him after his release.
The 77-year-old Lalung has lived a large chunk of his life in prison, nearly 54 years without a single court hearing.
Although he has finally been released, he now finds himself in a world that he cannot relate to.
"Here I am free, not in chains. But I don't know anyone here. It's good to be back home, but my life has passed me by," says Lalung.
As he arrives back at his ancestral house in Silchung, he realises that all his old companions are dead, while the new generation of his family do not know him at all.
"My mother used to tell us about him. She felt that he was alive somewhere. At least he can have a comfortable life now," says Sadhani Pator, Machal's niece.
Although Machal is free now and has returned home, he is just a shell of his old self.
Chained for years in a mental asylum, where he spent the better part of his jail term, he has become unstable. Also his vision and hearing have been impaired.
"I was kept with people who are mentally challenged. It was hot and stuffy there. Here it's cool. I do not know why I was kept for so long. I hardly remember anything," says Lalung.
Machal was arrested in 1951, but there are no records regrding his crime or the reason for shifting him to a mental hospital.
In July 2005, during a survey of backlogs, the NHRC stumbled upon his case. Thereafter, he was released owing to the intervention of the Supreme Court.
"This case has brought to light how our judicial system works. A man spent his life in jail not knowing why. Nobody bothered. Who will compensate for this life," says Subhen Bordoloi, a village elder.
Although Lalung knows that he has been wronged, he is not demanding justice. His needs are simple, and he just wants his own home and enough food to eat.
"I'll buy land. I'll have my own land and a house. I want a house to stay. I can't go back to that mental asylum. Right now we don't have enough to eat. With the money, I will buy fish and meat and some clothes," informs Lalung.