Kathmandu: After spending over 40 years in a series of Indian jails without trial, sixty-year-old Durga Prasad Timsina has been at his home in a small village in eastern Nepal since March 20.
He has got back a lot within these first days of freedom. His mother and siblings are still alive. Timsina’s elusive identity has now been authenticated – his name and citizenship endorsed.
But the loss of four decades in his life lingers on – mentally and physically. “I am not feeling well. It is very difficult for me to take food items. I am experiencing body aches and an eye problem,” said Timsina alias Deepak Jaishi, who was released from West Bengal’s Dum Dum Central Correctional Home last week, after being found unfit to stand trial.
When The Wire asked him to elaborate why he was arrested, he merely said, “I will speak in detail when I have recovered fully. I will also speak about the compensation that I should get because I am innocent.”
On May 12, 1980, he was arrested on murder charges in Darjeeling, the hill town in West Bengal. He protested his innocence over the phone to The Wire, claiming that a ‘friend’ had provided false information to the police.
Timsina recounts that he was moved frequently between different jails but was never given a reason for the transfers by the authorities. Since 2005, he was in the Dum Dum Correctional Home. His stay at the correctional home was the turning point. Five years later, he was joined by another inmate, Radhey Shyam Das.
When Radhey Shyam was released in October 2010 after serving his term, he set the ball rolling for Timsina’s eventual release.
In the Indian province, an association of amateur ham operators, West Bengal Radio Club, had garnered a stellar reputation of reuniting missing or lost people with their families.
Hirak Sinha, the club’s vice president, told The Wire, “During the Gangasagar festival, we were the ones who provide an alternate communication network. We are known for our ‘lost and found’ service. Only recently, we managed to find the home of a person from Bihar.”
Radhey Shyam approached the club’s secretary, Ambarish Nag Biswas, and informed him of Timsina’s travails. Hearing that a Nepali man may have been unjustly incarcerated for 40 years, members of the club sought the permission of the additional director general of correctional services to meet Timsina.
Sinha recalled that Timsina didn’t speak much, but he wrote about clouded memories of a home after some prodding. “He told us that he came from Mai or Mia. Also, that there was a nearby school called Manabiya Vidyalaya. With these two clues, we contacted our counterparts among the Nepali radio operators to locate his family.”
It didn’t take long for Timsina’s family to be pinpointed, which happened in November last year. His case was already splashed in local media. “They found the school, and luckily, one of the schoolteachers happened to be a close relative, Prakash Chandra Sharma Timsina,” says Sinha.
Meanwhile, Sinha, a Calcutta high court advocate, travelled to Darjeeling to examine court records. “I found that various judges had instituted several medical boards over the years. But, none of them gave a definite report about his fitness to face trial,” he said.
Calcutta high court takes notice
After a major regional publication, Anand Bazaar Patrika, reported Timsina’s confinement without trial for over 40 years, a Calcutta high court division bench took the case up on a suo motu basis.
Prakash Chandra Timsina, Durga Prasad’s first cousin, travelled to Kolkata and submitted an affidavit confirming the latter’s identity. Nepal’s consulate general said the government would also do the “needful to support the affairs” of Timsina.
After receiving a report from a medical board that Timsina’s mental age was around nine years old, the Kolkata high court issued a judgment on March 17 declaring him unfit for trial and releasing him immediately.
He arrived home in Lambak village in Ilam district’s Mai municipality-10, on March 20.
When he reached the small tin-roofed house, his family members asked him to identify his relation with the oldest woman at the gathering. He simply said, “Aama (mother)”.
In the first few days, even among the rush of guests and relatives, Timsina remained silent and was lost in his thoughts. But, he has started to share his story with his family slowly.
A difficult life
His 86 year-old-mother, Dhana Maya Timsina, still remembers the day she last saw her youngest son, a 19-year-old then. Before leaving home, Timsina told his mother that he would earn enough money to buy land and build a house for her. “He had left home with some mustard beans to sell in the market but he never returned,” she told Nepali news portal onelinekhabar. With the money he made by selling the mustard beans, Durga Prasad travelled to Darjeeling.
It has been a difficult life for Dhana Maya, who had to support her children. The family has survived mainly on a hand-to-mouth basis. She is, of course, thrilled to have her son back.
Her eldest son, Dharmananda, suffers from heart disease and is undergoing treatment. A daughter is married, while another, who has mental disabilities, lives with her.
“We do not have any steady income, so we are facing a lot of hardships. I just completed my Class XII and the responsibility to care for all family members falls on my shoulders,” Gopal Timsina, Dharmananda’s son and Durga Prasad’s nephew, told The Wire.
Durga Prasad, who is already 60 years old and suffering from the physiological cost of his imprisonment, he is unlikely to begin working again. The provincial government in Nepal announced that it would bear the cost of his medical treatment.
The Kolkata high court on March 22 observed that the detention of 41 years without due process “prompt us to consider whether he is to be supported with an order of compensation or damages, as against the State”. The court directed the West Bengal government to determine whether such an order should be passed.
The high court also asked the West Bengal police to collect details from all the correctional facilities in the state about undertrial prisoners who could be unfit to stand trial.
Strapped for money, Durga Prassad’s family members are expecting monetary support from the Nepal government and compensation from the Indian government.
Dhana Maya said, “Our condition is deplorable. I am not sure whether they (the Nepal government) will help us or not. Let us see if they care about us.”