The Meghalaya high court heard on Tuesday a PIL that has reopened a 23-year-old mystery — how a ‘lunatic’ was made to impersonate a murder accused who vanished from jail.
Officials and guards of Shillong Jail had no clue how Deepcharan Kaipeng, the murder suspect, disappeared from behind the bars in 1994. He was never found, dead or alive, and there was no evidence of him having escaped to freedom.
A probe by the Central Bureau of Investigation years later revealed that the jail had covered up Kaipeng’s disappearance by installing Rusith Sangma in his place.
The court directed the state government to provide its records involving Sangma, including his case diary. A division bench comprising Chief Justice Dinesh Maheshwari and Justice VP Vaish also made Rusith’s siblings, Thomas and Chomoni Sangma, a party to the case.
Sangma was originally picked up by the police in the mid-1980s. He had been abandoned by his wife, daughter, and siblings and was wandering the streets, say police, who classified Sangma as a ‘non-criminal lunatic’ under the Indian Lunacy Act of 1912. This law was soon repealed by the Mental Health Act of 1987.
“We hope to at least find out what happened to Sangma and where he is.”
SP Mahanta, Shillong -based lawyer
Sangma’s fate has become a mystery of its own: his family allegedly mishandled compensation money directed to Sangma in their care, and Sangma himself vanished without a trace.
“The case might not throw light on how Kaipeng, the murderer, vanished. But, we hope to at least find out what happened to Sangma and where he is,” Shillong-based lawyer SP Mahanta, who filed the PIL, told Hindustan Times. Mahanta added that the date of the next hearing would be determined after the court received the records it has requested.
Kaipeng stabbed to death his fellow tribesman Doyalian Kaipeng in 1992. The two, from Taidu village under Amarpur subdivision in Tripura, were students of St Anthony’s College in Shillong.
The jail staff managed to keep Kaipeng’s disappearance under wraps until it was time to produce him in a lower court in 2001. The court called the bluff, rebuked the jail warders for making Sangma impersonate Kaipeng, and directed the government to pay Rs 2,500 per month to Sangma as compensation.
Mahanta had handled Sangma’s case in 2001, helping him get out of jail that year. Sangma was handed over to his brother Thomas, who took him to their native Gulpani village in Meghalaya’s South Garo Hills district.
A year later, the CBI’s report found 10 jail officials guilty in the Kaipeng-Sangma mix-up. Their only punishment was the suspension of a year’s raise for those who were still employed.
In 2005, the department stopped Sangma’s monthly allowance after the Gauhati high court ordered a lump-sum compensation of Rs 2 lakh. Sangma’s siblings were directed to place the money in a bank account intended for his welfare. On November 10 of last year, however, they admitted that Sangma had gone missing in January 2006. The South Garo Hills district police made them lodge a missing person complaint.
“We carried out an investigation, but Sangma is yet to be found,” said Anand Mishra, the district’s superintendent of police.