Samudra Gupta Kashyap
Posted online: Thursday, December 27, 2007
Silchang (Assam), December 26: For 54 years, he remained behind bars despite no specific charges, forgotten by the law and everyone else, as reported first by The Indian Express. Till he was released on bail in July 2005, following the intervention of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). But his freedom was short-lived, as Machang Lalung, 80, died last night.
“Lalung was suffering from various old-age ailments for the past few months. Last week, he was taken to Guwahati Medical College Hospital after he suffered a fracture in his right leg following a fall in his house,” said Dr Jayanta Kumar Nath, medical officer at the Nellie State Dispensary. Lalung died at his ancestral house in Silchang at around 10:30 pm.
Lalung, a tribal from Silchang in Morigaon district of central Assam, was 23 when he went missing. His family thought he had been whisked away by some evil spirit. The only available record in Guwahati Jail says he was booked under Section 326 of the Indian Penal Code. The section pertains to a non-bailable offence for “voluntarily causing grievous hurt by dangerous weapons or means”. If found guilty, the maximum penalty under this provision is 10 years in prison.
But Lalung was never produced before a magistrate, nor did his case come up for any kind of hearing in the five-and-a-half decades that he remained in custody as an undertrial prisoner. Within weeks of his detention, he was sent to the Gopinath Bardoloi Mental Hospital at Tezpur. And despite repeated letters from the hospital authorities saying that Lalung had recovered and was fit to be taken back, the jail authorities did not respond.
It was only in July 2005 that he was finally released, on a bail for Re 1. The Indian Express report on the case prompted a PIL, following which the Supreme Court directed the Assam government to pay Lalung an interim compensation of Rs 3 lakh apart from a monthly subsistence allowance of Rs 1000. The state government was also directed to arrange regular medical check-up and free treatment for him.
“When we first heard that our granduncle was still alive, we simply could not believe it. When we were children, our grandmother used to tell us about her brother who went missing long ago,” said Sombar Pator, who lit the funeral pyre at the village cremation ground this afternoon.
“It was a strange life that our system forced upon this innocent man,” remarked Aneisha Sharma, whose 23-minute film Freedom at the Edge on Lalung earned accolades at the prestigious Boston International Film Festival earlier this year.