“Only love. Love took me half way across the world...love made me a mother to hundreds of children... Love put me through the hardest years of my life...but... Love also saved me. It’s worth it,” posted a British-Iranian aid worker, soon after she was acquitted over death of an Odisha boy.
Narges Kalbasi Ashtari, who was running an orphanage on behalf of the Prishan Foundation at Mukundapur village in Odisha’s Rayagada district, was convicted by a local court in 2014 for negligence leading to the death of a five-year-old tribal boy Asim Jilakara.
After prolonged legal battle for over two years, Ashtari was finally acquitted by Rayagada additional district and sessions’ court on March 25. The court said the negligence charge against her was “trumped up”.
Consulate of Iran in Hyderabad provided her legal assistance to fight the case.
Soon after the acquittal, Ashtari took to the Facebook to vent her emotion, posting the moving comment that reflects the trauma the 28-year old had undergone in the past two years.
As she tries to overcome the trauma under the care of the Iranian Consulate, her confidence and determination to serve the poor children only intensified.
“We must always fight for what we believe in because this is our world. Unfortunately, people will always be there to try to stop happiness, to stop progress, to stop peace... These people exist and they exist far greater than we know. But eventually, love will always win,” she said.
Recalling the most difficult phase of her life, Ashtari said she had never expected that she would become a victim of local politics and corrupt administration.
“After travelling across different parts of India, I had chosen to work in Rayagada area in 2011 because it was one of the most neglected areas of the country. I was enjoying working for the underprivileged children in the area, when the tragic incident took place on November 3, 2014,” she told Hindustan Times.
On behalf of Prishan Foundation, Ashtari and her team took some tribal students on a picnic to a riverside.
“A couple working with us brought two of their children to the picnic, though they were not supposed to, as these children were not part of our foundation. The couple assured that they would take care of their children. Unfortunately, one of these two kids had gone missing,” she recalled.
“We took the roll call of our students and since this boy was not in our list, we were not aware of his absence,” she said.
The boy was believed to have been swept away in the river current and was not traced.
“Though the couple initially told the police that it was not our mistake, they changed the statement later holding me responsible for the death. The police filed an FIR against me on the charges of negligence and that was how, I was implicated in the case,” she said.
Apparently, the couple and the police had demanded Rs 5 lakh as bribe to withdraw the case. “But I was not willing to pay even Rs 5,000, as I did not commit any mistake. When the court convicted me, I was shattered,” she said.
Ashtari was released on bail, but was asked not to leave the country and to make regularly appearance in the police station.
“I filed an appeal. In the next two years, I had to run from pillar to post seeking assistance. Luckily, I could get help from various quarters, including the tribal students for whom I worked,” she said.
Ashtari also took to online petition forum Change.org and appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to come to her rescue. Thousands of people signed the petition in her support.
And finally, she could prove her innocence.
On her future course of action, she said: “Well, I have not yet decided what to do now, whether to go back to the UK or stay back in India. The road back to normalcy is going to be difficult. But at least now it’s on the right track.”