UP: Wrongly Convicted Muslim Youth Freed After 10 Years, Says Lost Respect, Land
Image Courtesy: Special Arrangement
Shravasti/Lucknow: He used a lathi, but his steps had a spring. On October 7 morning, 30-year-old Alauddin Khan alias Chotkau got a new lease of life. He walked out of Uttar Pradesh’s Varanasi Central Jail after ten years behind bars for the rape and murder of a six-year-old girl. The irony of this momentous day in his life was that he had always been innocent but was wrongly framed by the police.
Clad in a white T-shirt and trousers with a cream-coloured gamcha hanging from his shoulders, Chotkau, a native of Semgarha village of Shrawasti district, was received by his mother and relatives as he stepped out of jail for the first time after ten years.
Chotkau walked out of the prison's main gate at around 12.15 pm on a bright sunny afternoon with a small bag containing his clothes, medicine for heart disease and a copy of the Supreme Court judgment that had ordered his release. This was a restart of his life. His mother Jannatul Nisha (69) broke down as she embraced him and kissed him on the forehead.
When asked how he views his acquittal by the apex court, Chotkau said, “The judgment has restored my faith in the judiciary. It vindicated my conviction and restored my innocence. But my years of wrongful imprisonment are clear signs of systemic failure.”
Chotkau has wasted over ten precious years of his life. He was 20 on the date of his arrest and is 30 at present. Meanwhile, he went through heart surgery at the department of the Institute of Medical Sciences, Banaras Hindu University (IMS-BHU).
“I had a cardiac arrest at Varanasi Central Jail five-six years back. I have been freed from jail after a decade, but what will I do with this health when I can not lift heavy luggage? I will not get even labourer work. I have proven innocent and walked out of jail, but how would I survive without money?” Chotkau asked while speaking to NewsClick.
It all began in March 2012 when one co-villager, Kishun Bahadur, lodged a complaint at Ikauna police station alleging that Chotkau took his niece aged about six years under the pretext of showing dance and song performances on the occasion of the Holi festival. When the girl did not return home, a search was conducted. It was found that the appellant was not found in his house, but the dead body of the girl was found in the sugarcane field located on the southern side of the village.
Fatehpur Bahadur, who had claimed to have seen Chotkau leaving the sugarcane field. Therefore, invoking the last-seen theory and on the basis of circumstantial evidence, Chotkau was charged for the commission of the offences of raping the minor girl and murdering her.
The trial court sentenced him to death in March 2014, a verdict that was confirmed by the Allahabad high court in April 2016.
Chotkau’s case, however, came to the notice of retired high court judge S Nagamuthu, who argued for him in the top court and exposed the contradictions in the prosecution case. The bench outlined several discrepancies in the prosecution case.
It was argued by the prosecution that the Chotkau, who was last seen with the little girl, took her for a dance and song performance on the occasion of Holi festival following which the girl went missing. Her body was later recovered from the fields.
The top court noted that the prosecution did not bother subjecting the accused to a medical examination. This was considered “fatal” to the prosecution story as the top court held that in cases of circumstantial evidence, medical evidence becomes the clincher.
“When the offence is heinous, the court is required to put the material evidence under a higher scrutiny,” said the bench. “This erroneous approach on part of the sessions court and the high court has led the appellant being ordained to be dispatched to the gallows," it added.
“Unfortunately, the sessions court, as well as the high court, have trivialized these major contradictions to hold that the chain of circumstances has been established unbroken,” the bench said as it set aside the conviction and the sentence.
The apex court noted that Chotkau was so poor that he could not afford a lawyer for the trial and was provided services of a lawyer to assist the court as amicus curiae only after repeated requests.
The bench said the rape and murder of the six-year-old girl were undoubtedly “ghastly”, but the prosecution had done great injustice to the appellant by fixing the culpability on him “without any shred of evidence which will stand scrutiny”.
“Court cannot make someone a victim of injustice, to compensate for the injustice to the victim of a crime,” the bench of justices S Abdul Nazeer, AS Bopanna and V Ramasubramanian said in its 47-page verdict that tore into the police, prosecution and the courts.
The top court even found contradictions in the statements given by the witnesses presented by the police. The witnesses contradicted their initial version during their cross-examination. They differed on material aspects of the case regarding lodging of FIR, location of the dead body, place of the inquest, and description of clothes worn by the victim.
‘CONSPIRACY TO GRAB LAND’
According to Chotkau, the entire conspiracy was hatched by one of his relatives who had an eye on his more than 28 bighas land, which was given by his maternal grandfather to his mother as he had no other children.
Chotkau told NewsClick he had been falsely implicated in the case at the behest of his maternal uncle Zalim Khan, who wanted to grab his mother's property. “Zalim Khan had told me to get the FIR lodged. We have all the documents of the land as vasiyatnama. Since Zalim was then the village head and a very influential person, he succeeded in grabbing all my land, producing fake documents that my nana had no children, so the property belonged to him. He threatened to kill us if we complained to the police," he claimed.
Chotkau has a sense of fear that his character was assassinated among the villagers, due to which he lost respect and his relatives succeeded in taking over his mother’s property.
“I don’t have money to buy ration to feed my mother and married sister who took care of my mother for ten years in my absence. Who will return my good days and property? What will I do if I am proven innocent after ten years? Can the Supreme Court also order compensation?” Chotkau asked.
Showing his ‘kutcha house’ that has turned into debris in the absence of money, he further said that he does not have even Rs 200 rupees to buy bamboo so that he could cover the house. “Life is full of uncertainty. Now, I want to serve my mother for as many days are left,” Chotkau said and burst into tears.
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