May 2: It infused life into an ailing septuagenarian mother on the one hand and on the other, gave a son the satisfaction that his father’s killer would live to count his sins till his last breath.
When Kusumbala Das, the bedridden mother of double murder convict Mahendra Nath Das, got the news yesterday afternoon that the Supreme Court had commuted her son’s death sentence to jail for life, she actually got up from bed and limped to the nearest naamghar (community prayer hall) to thank God.
“The Supreme Court order has almost given new life to our mother, a cardiac patient who has been confined to bed, haunted by the thoughts of her son being hanged ever since the (Gauhati) high court turned down Mahendra’s petition,” Das’s youngest sister, Pratima, told The Telegraph at their home at Bohori village in Barpeta district, about 90km from Guwahati.
On January 30, 2012, Gauhati High Court had dismissed Das’s petition seeking commutation of his sentence on account of the nearly 12-year delay by the President in deciding on his mercy plea. He was on death row for more than 16 years after Kamrup district and sessions court sentenced him on August 18, 1997.
“What else I can ask for? I am happy that God has finally answered our prayers,” said a frail looking but relieved Kusumbala, sitting on a rickety wooden chair in her mud-walled, tin-roofed house. “I just don’t have the words to describe how I feel. The only thing I can say is a huge weight, which I was carrying for the past so many years, is finally off my chest.”
Bijuli, another of Das’s three sisters, said their mother had spent several years oscillating between hope and despair, which took a toll on her health. “Her condition was so bad that she was unable to walk and doctors had to put off her gallstone operation.”
She said Kusumbala’s condition was such that they feared she would not survive the pain of losing her son. But her recovery since yesterday was “sort of a miracle”. “Now I feel that she may live for a few more years,” Bijuli added.
Kusumbala admitted that the past 16 years were tough. “He was not even allowed to come home to light the funeral pyre of his father, who passed away in 2003,” she said.
“I agree his crime was heinous. But I don’t see any reason behind hanging him now after he spent so many years behind bars,” she said. “It’s not only him, our entire family has suffered a lot. After his father’s demise, I could not marry off two of my three daughters because of our precarious financial condition. My daughter Pratima, who is an Anganwadi worker, is somehow holding the household together with her meagre income.”
She now wants Das to be shifted from Jorhat jail to Guwahati Central Jail so that she could meet him. “We are poor people and cannot afford to travel all the way to Jorhat to see him,” said Kusumbala, who is waiting to see her son. She was not allowed to meet him after being shifted to the Jorhat jail for execution of the death sentence in May 2011, following rejection of his mercy petition by then President Pratibha Patil on May 12 the same year.
On the other hand, Amal Das, son of Harakanta Das, who the convict had beheaded, believes the commutation of the death sentence to life imprisonment was a harsher punishment than hanging.
“The conclusion to the case is a relief as we have suffered immensely since my father was killed on the morning of April 24, 1996. Though we objected to Das’s plea for commutation of his sentence, we respect the Supreme Court order. Hanging him would have ended his life in minutes but now he will suffer within till his death for the wrongs he committed,” Amal, a trader at Mackhowa here, told The Telegraph today.
Recalling the suffering the loss had caused him, he hoped the sentence would add years to Mahendra’s mother life. “I was only 28 when my father was killed. My younger brother died in 2007 and I lost my mother the next year. We have gone through difficult times but we are equally pained at seeing the suffering of Das’s old mother, Kusumbala. We hope his mother will now live a little longer as her son will no longer be hanged,” he said.
“But we urge the authorities to ensure that no other convict commits another crime after being released on bail, as Das had done. We do not want another family to suffer like us.”
Amal had filed a petition in Gauhati High Court in April 2011, objecting to the killer’s sentence commutation plea on grounds that the latter had committed two murders — the other victim being Rajen Das of Bharalumukh, who was killed on December 24, 1990.