What’s worse than committing a crime' If you ask Haradhan De, it’s being branded a criminal for life, even when you desperately want to get back to the straight and narrow.
De, a former convict, has approached Calcutta High Court with a tale of how his efforts to lead a normal life have been thwarted, years after he finished serving a life term for his involvement in a “political murder”.
In 1978, a man was murdered in Belghoria and four members of a rival group were arrested. De, then 18, was one of them. The additional sessions judge of Alipore, on April 4, 1979, sentenced all four to life imprisonment.
De spent 14 years at Alipore Central jail, following which the case file, along with comments from the jailer, were sent to the governor, who directed the government to release him and bring him back into the mainstream. The 32-year-old stepped out into a new life on September 20, 1993, and returned to his residence on Jatin Das Road, in Belghoria.
Soon after, he learnt that the Airports Authority of India (AAI), Dum Dum, would recruit some casual labourers in its Rakshak Security Service. He checked to find that his antecedents would not mar his chances. He landed the job on December 21, 1994. The job, though a temporary one, changed his life. De got married and was leading a quiet life when his past crept up on him.
In 1996, a Supreme Court judgment ordered the AAI to give permanent appointments to casual labourers working for more than a year. All 450 casual labourers — except De — were made permanent. He was denied after a police verification report stated that he had spent 14 years behind bars.
De made repeated appeals to the authorities, but to no avail. He moved high court in 1998. Justice M.H.S. Ansari, on hearing the petition, asked the AAI to consider his case “within 12 weeks”. The judge observed that the employing authority should allow the petitioner to get a chance to lead a normal life. Five years have passed, but the AAI is yet to take a decision.
This has prompted De to file a fresh petition before the high court. His petition will be heard by Justice Ansari any day now. De’s lawyer, Uttam Majumdar, said: “What is the point of making jails into correctional homes when we cannot allow reformed criminals to lead a normal life' And why is West Bengal not changing the existing rules, like Punjab and Haryana, where convicts, after serving their terms, are being provided government jobs'”