After 29 years of fighting the stigma of murder allegations, Khushwant Singh's ordeal came to an end as he was acquitted on Monday after the prosecution failed to prove that Inderjeet Singh, a youth found hanging in his rented accommodation in Khuswant's family house in 1985, was murdered.
"I don't know how to react. Of course, the order proves my innocence but the cost I have paid is too high - my entire life," said Khushwant, 42, who was tried and acquitted by the juvenile justice board as he was a minor - 12 years old, actually - at the time of the alleged crime.
This was one of the oldest trials pending at the district courts here, filed by the deceased's father Allah Singh, who died during the pendency. The case saw more than 2,500 hearings, 12 inquiries by different agencies and five re-probes. Khushwant's family - brother Harpreet Singh, 52, father Hardev Singh, 80, and mother Rajinder Kaur, 73 - were acquitted by the court in the case in August last year. Initially, only those were accused of the murder of 24-year-old Inderjeet, a native of Patiala, after his body was found in his rented room at the house in Sector 34D in July 1985. They even spent a few months in jail, though Khushwant, who was formally charged only in 2008, did not have to remain behind bars during trial.
Khushwant, after 23 years of the incident, was summoned as accused on Allah's plea after one of the witnesses pointed out that blood found on the vest of the deceased was of the same blood group as that of Khushwant.
With folded hands and teary eyes, Khushwant stood expressing gratitude to God and his lawyer on Monday. "I had returned from the school to be told that Inderjeet Singh, who lived on rent in our house, had died. I could not have imagined that I could also be named as accused in what they termed as murder, even when he had committed suicide," said Khushwant, who says he is a businessman now.
It was on a complaint by Inderjeet's father Allah Singh that the police had registered a case of murder on September 24, 1985. But investigations revealed that Inderjeet had committed suicide. After Allah's demands, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) registered a murder case on September 21, 1990, but then filed a cancellation report three years later. The chief judicial magistrate of Chandigarh, on December 22, 1994, ordered re-investigation after declining the cancellation report. After a series of writs and re-probes, the case was admitted on February 26, 2002.
"Our house and automobile spare parts' shop had to be sold during the trial," added Khushwant who, after staying on rent for a decade, is now working with his brother who started a business and bought a house.
CASE: Body of 24-year-old Inderjeet, a native of Patiala, working with Central Warehousing Corporation, found hanging in his rented room at a house in Sector 34D in July 1985. Police termed this as suicide but father of the deceased, Allah Singh, went up to the Supreme Court and accused the landlords of his son of murdering him over a petty issue.
CLEAN CHIT: After UT police gave a clean chit to the accused, Allah Singh got the matter transferred to CBI, which also concluded the case to be a suicide, in 1994, following which Allah moved court and re-probe was ordered.
MANY PROBES: After a series of writs and re-probes, the case was admitted in court after nearly 17 years on February 26, 2002. Charges were framed on April 30, 2008 and Khushwant's case was referred to juvenile justice board as he was a minor at time of the alleged crime.
COMPLAINANT DIES WAITING: Allah Singh died at the age of 87 in December 2012. Having retired from the railways in 1983, he spent his gratuity and pension trying to prove that his son was murdered. He had told people at the district courts in 2012, "Inderjeet was a brave boy and he could not have committed suicide." But the court has now ruled it was suicide.
ACQUITTAL: On August 24, 2013, three accused - Hardev Singh, his wife Rajinder Kaur and their elder son Harpreet Singh - were acquitted by the court, while Hardev's second son Khushwant has now been acquitted.