EARLY IN 1948
His name is Deepchand. His mother fondly calls him Deepu. He is a happy-go-lucky young man in his early twenties who lives in Kanpur with his family. He, like many men of his locality, is uneducated and unemployed. But that has not made him lose heart and there seems to be absolutely no dearth of hope in his eyes or smile on his lips! In fact, every morning, he roams around the streets of Kanpur in search of a livelihood, which he never gets. Days roll by, slowly hope turns into stone and he, tired with the constant nitpicking of his relatives, decides to leave Kanpur.
He goes to Allahabad leaving behind his ailing mother, the nagging relatives, the familiar alleys and the long summers of Kanpur and continues his chase. After much struggle, lady luck smiles at him and this time, he manages to become a blue collar worker in the city. He works day and night to feed his stomach with the little money he gets, quenches his thirst from roadside wells, sleeps on the footpaths and remembers his mother. Sometimes, he feels like crying but he consoles himself and hopes that someday he will be able to save some money and send a beautiful saree to his mother at Kanpur. He dreams a beautiful dream ignoring the nightmares!
21ST NOVEMBER 1948
Winters are in. The nights at Allahabad are freezing cold. The fog has almost de-peopled the streets and the chill forces the humans to remain in the cozy confinements of the four walls. Everything seems so dead and still. Without disturbing the spine-chilling tranquility of the night, in the fade light of the fog-drenched moon, a figure rises from the dirty footpath. The silhouette is Deepchand. He wears a torn shawl that barely covers his body. He shivers incessantly. Not being able to withstand the cold on that platform, he decides to walk and warm himself. He also hopes to find himself a more comfortable shelter for the night. He tries to take hurried steps and reaches near a police station. Just when he thinks that he has reached the most secured place in the city, two constables from the police–thana see him roam around and drag him to the chamber of the officer in-charge. They start interrogating him like anything. He tells them the truth about the miserable condition of his financial life. The police do not believe him. They consider him not only guilty but also a fugitive who’s been escaping from law. Without paying any heed to his innocent plea, they lodge a complaint against him under Section 109 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). He is then sent to Malaka Jail, Allahabad.
Thus starts the real struggle of Deepchand’s life, rather, the next thirty five years of his so-called life. The police do not seem to be bothered about putting a young man behind the bars without any trial or evidence. In fact, the trial never happens. The jail authority too gives the issue of his arrest a cold shoulder. The filthy cell of Malaka Jail gradually kills all the dreams in his eyes, making him die every day. As time flies, a helpless Deepchand realizes that neither the police nor the Jail- authority really gives a damn to his deteriorating physical and mental condition. He tries to contact several Human Rights groups and convey his condition but fails miserably owing to the non- cooperation of the authority in question. His poignant screams do not even reach the sensible ears of the top- notch law- keepers of an Independent nation.
Almost a decade passes and Deepchand, who has lost touch with his family at Kanpur, decides to contact his father. He writes a long letter to his father about the trauma that he’s been going through all these years and also requests him to get him out of the place as soon as possible. But little does the young man know that it is mostly nightmares that often come to life! No member of the prison authority takes responsibility of posting the letter and the piece of paper never reaches his father! To add to his miseries, the unhygienic, stagnant and pathetic condition of the prison cell leads him to a nameless physical disorder, completely shattering his body and most importantly, his soul. Deepchand’s declining physical condition suddenly sets an alarm to the prison authority and it refuses to take the burden of his responsibility anymore. They send him to the Jail of Benaras in the name of better medication. But everything seems to be in vain. The authority at Benaras too, fails to give him a proper medication. They understand that Deepchand’s unnamed disease is too difficult to be cured at their hospital. Deepchand gets tossed again and is sent to a bigger prison now, the Naini Central Jail, Allahabad. Misfortune, in a more miserable form, waits for him here too.
Right after being transferred to the Naini Central Jail, Deepchand understands that if he does not stand up for his own rights, he is going to perish soon. He tells his story to the inmates of his cell who sympathize with him. Soon he finds several inmates who support him but again none of them really turns up and helps him.
Four months into the prison, Deepchand’s mental condition starts deteriorating to such an extent that on 4th February, 1959, the Civil Surgeon of Naini Jail declares him a person of unsound mind, an insane, a lunatic and all the other adjectives available. The Central jail authority then presents him before Allahabad District Magistrate’s Court, which in turn sends him to a mental asylum in Benaras.
A heavily traumatized Deepchand spends the next numberless years of his life in the company of his asylum mates and loses complete touch with the outside world. Meanwhile, the chariot of justice mercilessly rolls on. The authority does not even bother to inform Deepchand’s family anything about his arrest, the disorder or the asylum days. Much like the Abbe Feria in Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo, Deepu too, loses count of time along with all hopes and desires. Now he stands somewhere between the realms of sanity and insanity with no one to listen to his silent prayers or look at his wrinkled face or hold his skinny hands!
Deepchand finally gets out of the Benaras Mental Asylum in 1984. The tale of a young man who spends more than three decades of his life behind the bars and in an asylum without any reason or trial or evidence spreads like a wildfire and soon people start talking about it. The media highlights the story and it gets published in many leading newspapers of the country. This proves to be the greatest turning point of Deepchand’s life. He is then produced before the Court of District Magistrate, Allahabad on 30 March 1984 by the Superintendent of the Naini Central Jail. On 1st June, 1984, they produce Deepchand in the Court of the City Magistrate. On 5th June 1984, the court acquits Deepchand of all charges against him and declares him innocent and free.
Soon after the court declares its verdict, Deepchand does not wait a minute and goes to Kanpur, the long lost land, to meet his family. But Kanpur suddenly turns into a strange land, and Deepchand, a stranger. It does not welcome him now. His parents are long gone from the world. None of his new relatives recognize a wrinkled old half–sane man. Deepchand turns just a helpless face in the crowd. Slowly, he starts parting with sanity. Who will take care of him now- the country, the government or the Omnipresent, Omniscient and the Omnipotent One?
The Uttar Pradesh Government declares that Deepchand would be given a compensation of Rs. Twenty Four Thousand (24,000) so that he can bear the medical expenses. But Deepchand asks a piercing question with the little sensibility that he possesses, “Can you return me those thirty- five years of my life? Can this money return me even a single day of those lost 35 years of my life?” And the question never gets answered…