Like any other seven-year-old, Shoma (name changed) loved to scamper around. One day, she wandered too far — on the platform of Patna railway station and was picked up by the rail police on the charges of loitering on the without a valid ticket — a crime that cost her nine years of her life.
The railway magistrate asked her to pay a fine of Rs 350. As the destitute child could not, she was sentenced to a nine-day term in prison.
She was sent to the government-owned Nari Niketan (reformatory home) at Deoghar, which now falls in Jharkhand. But instead of nine days, the girl spent nine years.
Her plight came to light only when the then Chief Justice of Jharkhand High Court and his wife, during an unplanned visit to the Nari Niketan in 2005, inquired from the girl about the reason behind her detention. By the time the judge noticed her, the girl had turned 16 and had lost all memories about her family and of her own identity.
The Union Law Minister HS Bhardwaj, Governor Syed Sibte Razi, judges of the Jharkhand High Court, district judges and state's senior bureaucrats were taken aback when Justice Altamas Kabir of the Supreme Court, narrated his own encounter with the girl at a symposium on the Juvenile Justice (Care & Protection of Children) Act here on Sunday.
Justice Kabir asked the audience as to who should be blamed for the unauthorised detention of the girl during which she lost her childhood.
Justice Kabir said the girl might have been languishing in the home, had he not visited there on the persuasion of his fellow judge Justice SJ Mukhopadhya.
He had gone there while serving as the chief justice of Jharkhand High Court.
Kabir, however, informed the gathering that he succeeded in procuring papers regarding the girl from the Patna court and searched her original home in Patna. "But when the authorities reached the girl's home, they were shocked to learn that her parents had died in between and her only brother had shifted to Assam in search of a job. But we kept following the case and ultimately found her brother in Assam", he said.