In 1989, Vijay Kumari, who lived with her husband in Mehrauni village, Aligarh district, Uttar Pradesh, was accused of murdering a neighbour’s child. In 1993 she was found guilty and sentenced to life imprisonment. At the time she was five months pregnant.
She appealed to the Allahabad High Court and sought bail which was granted on the January 10, 1994. Surety was fixed at R10,000.
Unfortunately her husband couldn’t afford this sum and didn’t pursue the matter. He then remarried and forgot about his first wife.
For the next 19 years Vijay Kumari languished in jail forgotten — actually, cast aside — by her family and the world.
Her only comfort was the son she gave birth to in captivity whom she named Kanhaiya after Lord Krishna, a name suggested by the prison doctor because he, too, was born in jail.
For four years Vijay Kumari was permitted to keep Kanhaiya but then he was taken away and sent to a series of borstals and care-homes. However, he would visit her regularly, often every week.
Last year Kanhaiya turned 18, left his care-home and got a job in a factory. Working countless hours a day, he earned enough to engage a lawyer and seek his mother’s release. The lawyer he contacted, Arvind Kumar Singh, had earlier secured bail for one of Vijay Kumari’s fellow inmates.
To his astonishment, Singh discovered that Vijay Kumari had been granted bail as far back as 1994. All that was required was payment of surety. The court was “bewildered as to how a lady was allowed to be incarcerated for 19 years only because she was unable to furnish surety bonds.” It ordered her immediate release on a personal bond of R5,000.
Kanhaiya paid and won his mother her freedom. One of the first things he did was buy her a sari so she could enter her new life in new clothes.
Let me add, though convicted of murder, Vijay Kumari has always denied her guilt. She suspects her husband’s involvement in the killing which, of course, explains why he let her languish in jail. Indeed, this could also be why he abandoned her and married again.
This heart-rending story deserved to be front page news. Not just because of its horrifying content but also because it reflects a fate shared by thousands of others who remain in jail, too poor to afford bail whilst the system forgets about them.
Alas, it didn’t make it to a single one. The Express did an inside story two Sundays ago. The Mail Today a smaller one two days later. NDTV India did two reports. CNN-IBN one. That’s it.
Worst of all, a story that would have made millions weep was ignored by TV because they were obsessed with cricket.
I caught the story on the BBC. My colleague, Arvind Kumar, found The Times (London) had also reported it. Astonished that I hadn’t seen it in Indian newspapers or on television, I worked backwards to discover how it had been covered by a few but ignored by the vast majority.
I’d say this is a telling comment on our media. Do you agree?
Views expressed by the author are personal