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Life in jail, hero in death

Silchang (Assam), Dec. 26: Machang Lalung wasted 54 years of his life in prison. Today, he got a hero’s send-off.

The whole of Silchang, his native village, turned out for the funeral of the 79-year-old, who died last night of “old-age ailments”.

Lalung, after all, was not just another former jailbird. Two years ago, he had hit headlines after the National Human Rights Commission discovered during a survey that the old man had been in jail without trial.

Jail authorities said all papers relevant to Lalung’s case had been lost and no family member came forward to pursue his release.

Today, villagers recalled how the old man spent his last days.

“He was just beginning to enjoy his freedom,” said Nagen Manta, a villager, at the cremation ground.

Freed in July 2005, Lalung returned to his village in Morigaon district, 78km from Guwahati, with a compensation of Rs 3 lakh from the Assam government and a monthly stipend of Rs 1,000.

Nondescript Silchang also shot to fame with Lalung’s freedom.

Villagers said Lalung enjoyed the heady taste of jooh, a traditional brew, chased crabs in muddy waters and liked chatting.

But a lot had had changed in the village by the time Lalung began his new life.

He was a complete stranger for all but five of his contemporaries, who recalled how Lalung had killed another man in a fit of rage and then surrendered to police.

“He was active till just a few days ago ... his most important activity was hunting for crabs in the nearby Ghilakhola stream. In the evenings, he enjoyed a sip or two of jooh, our traditional brew,” said Manta.

Doctor Jayanta Nath said Lalung died of old-age ailments.

“On December 15, he fell down and injured himself while working at home. He was admitted to Gauhati Medical College and Hospital on December 17. He was brought home a few days later but died at 9.30pm last night.”

Few will miss Lalung as much as Sumbor, his grandson, who followed the old man like a shadow.

His grandfather’s death, he said, meant all that had been promised would now never be fulfilled.

The government, for instance, had promised to build him a house.

Lalung had forgotten most things about his life before jail. But, of late, he was showing signs of remembering events and people from the distant past, said a villager.

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