August 28, 1989. Murder accused Shibu Thakur and Badal Barui, barely into their thirties and vehemently protesting their innocence, are convicted for life by the trial court in Burdwan.
April 9, 2003. Lifers Shibu Thakur and Badal Barui, now well into their forties and broken in spirit, are found “not guilty” by a division bench of Calcutta High Court. Setting aside the conviction and sentence passed by the trial court, it directs the jail authorities to release them at once.
After 14 years in the dingy cells of Presidency and Alipore Central jails, the two “innocent” men from Burdwan had to wait some more before the prison authorities allowed them to walk free earlier this month. Badal was freed on July 8 and Shibu on July 15, a good three months after the high court order.
Convicted for life for a murder they did not commit, Shibu and Badal are now free men. But will they ever be able to shake off the ‘murderer’ millstone' “It’s sad, but true, that they’ll find it very difficult to return to society after being in confinement for 14 years,” observes Ramapada Bhattacharya, superintendent of Alipore Central jail, expressing regret over the “illegal detention” of the duo.
Shibu and Badal were convicted for life by the additional sessions judge, Burdwan, for the murder of Sheikh Azim on the night of December 10, 1984, over a property dispute. Initially lodged in Burdwan jail, they were later incarcerated in Calcutta — Badal in Alipore Central and Shibu in Presidency jail.
This April, a division bench of Calcutta High Court, comprising Justice Amit Talukdar and Justice P.N.Sinha, set aside the conviction and sentence. Observing that the prosecution evidence “is not sufficient to warrant conviction”, the judges found the appellants not guilty of the murder charges and directed the jails to release them. The division bench had heard the case for two days in March before delivering the judgment.
According to officials, Shibu and Badal were barely 30 when they were imprisoned. “Today, they look so much older and their spirits seem to have been broken after spending their prime years behind bars,” observed additional inspector-general of prisons Anup Tripathi.
Fellow inmates recount the two often weeping in their cells “for being framed”. A convict in Presidency jail recalled: “Shibu would often insist he was languishing in jail for no fault of his.”
Ruplal Barui, a relative of Shibu, has already moved the National Human Rights Commission. He is learnt to have asked the jail authorities if they could find Shibu a job. “Who else is going to employ a jailbird'” he asked Presidency jail officials.