The lost house
My village had a few pucca buildings and many small huts. The owners of the pucca buildings were obviously rich. They owned most of the land of the village. They commanded lot of respect among the locals and were very proud of their status. Why a few people owned most of the land and why most of the villagers tolerated that situation is a matter of research but the fact remained that the villagers had well-adjusted with the situation and had not much to complain. Very few villagers had formal education.
The small village had lot of attractions. It had surroundings full of greeneries. The temples around, although not well maintained, had many visitors. The villagers were mostly believers. Not much of pomp and show but attractive because of simple and straight dealings, they had a busy life. They would get up early morning and go to their lands and remain busy throughout the day.
In so far as livelihood is concerned, there were not much options before them. Either you become a labourer or cultivate your own land. There was indeed school five kilometres away. Many children preferred to avoid it. If forced, they will start for the school and get lost in the long intervening forest. The school was on the other end of the forest, so the parents would hardly know about this.
Richa was the only child of her parents. She was barely five when her mother died. Her father, Mohan, a labourer, had no formal education but had heard about the school. One-day Ranjan, a social activist, came to the village and inspired the villagers to send their wards to the school and also offered financial help. They were also informed about the schemes of the Government which would benefit them if they send their wards to the school. Many villagers liked the idea and started sending their wards to the school.
Harakhu, too, heard Ranjan, the activist but was not inspired. Further his economic condition, too, did not favour the idea. His only son, Krishan used to help him earn livelihood. However, Krishan saw other boys and girls from the village going to the school every day. He hardly understood the purpose of children going out every day nor he knew anything about its benefits. However, he was attracted as it would give him an opportunity to get out of the home and to mingle with the fellow boys and girls. So, he requested his father to allow him to join the school.
Harkhu ,however,was not enthusiastic about this proposal for variety of reasons. However, Ranjan heard about this and persuaded him to allow Krishan, his only son, to go to the school. He was told that the boy would get free mid-day meal besides some cash awards, too, may be given by the NGO being run by Ranjan the social activist. Harkhu agreed mainly because of the temptations of getting some cash awards besides freedom from feeding his son during the day time.
That is how Krishan began his daily journey to the school. Richa too, belonged to the same village and used to go to the same school. Gradually they started going together as the timings and destination synchronised. Many other children from neighbouring villages will join them on the way. By the time they approached the school, it used to be a huge crowd of children surging towards the school.
I had chance to get formal education. Perhaps the only graduate from the village, I managed to get the job of teacher in that school. The monthly salary was, too, low but I preferred to work their primarily because it offered a great opportunity to serve the locals. The Headmaster of the school being inspired by my interest in social activities made me in charge of the mid-day meal scheme. Besides, I was also looking after extra-curricular activities and was also imparting yoga training to the students.
What was not acceptable to me was the attitude of Ranjan and his fellow activists. They would try to persuade me to be their associate in stealing money from the funds provided for the mid-day meal. I stoutly opposed the idea. This was not liked by them. Although they pretended to be the well-wishers’ of the villagers but in reality, they were not. There only interest was to gather more and more children in the name of education by alluring the simple villagers and then to make easy money by syphoning off most of the funds provided by the Government for this purpose. To help this, they would provide poor quality foods, show increased numbers of students, even quantum of food provided was, too, meagre to satisfy the hungry students.
One day while I was travelling from my village to the school I overheard Harakhu and Mohan talking about the poor quality of the mid-day meal being provided to their children. They were also disappointed about not getting any cash rewards as promised earlier although they were provided with the pass book issued by a local post office. The pass book had many entries of money coming in and going out but hardly anything went into the pocket of Harkhu or Mohan or for that matter any of the similarly placed persons but they could not understand how to redress their grievances. In fact, they were, too, much afraid of Ranjan and his fellow activists who had hired muscle men to intimidate the passbook holders even on the slightest protest.
I was socked on hearing all this. Not that I did not had the idea of ongoing bungling’s but I could not imagine about the gravity of the situation until I had the chance to be in charge of the scheme in that school. I used to read from the news papers about these things and also heard about involvement of the high ups in the matter but here in the school I was seeing things and hearing about the malpractices from the horse’s mouth.
Being dissatisfied with the poor management of the ongoing mid-day meal schemes the locals led by Harakhu, and Mohan gathered around the school and tried to meet the Headmaster. Gradually the number of protesters started increasing. Many persons from the nearby villages gathered around. Harakhu started speaking about the malpractices. He spoke in local dialect. His language was simple but tough .It was forceful and full of facts. This excited the listners. They started raising slogans. Unfortunately, my name was being taken at the top of the voice. In their view, I too, was an associate of Ranjan and his fellow activists .
While the meeting was in progress, I saw four-five musclemen coming around. immediately after reaching there, they started beating the protesters. On seeing the musclemen heralding Lathis and other dangerous equipment’s, most of the them fled away. Mohan who till then was standing with Harakhu, too, fled away.
The musclemen started beating people recklessly. In a couple of minutes, the whole meeting ground was packed with the injured persons. Hardly anybody was there to attend upon them. Harakhu, too, got injured but was in a position to speak. He tried to contact the local police but none came until Ranjan and his fellow activists arrived. They started blaming me for the entire episode. According to them, I was responsible for the ongoing bungling.
The police arrived only after everything was over. The stage was taken over by Ranjan. Harakhu who had been leading the protest was whisked away by the musclemen in the name of medical treatment and was thrown somewhere in the forest area. Soon thereafter I was arrested by the police on the basis of the FIR lodged by Ranjan. I tried to argue with them about the injustice being meted out to me but there were no takers. I was left alone.
Serious allegations invoking several dangerous provisions of the Indian Penal code were made against me in the FIR lodged by Ranjan. Actually, it was a do or die situation for them as well. If they succumb to the pressure of the locals, their entire bungling’s could have been unearthed. They were involved not only in the mid-day meal schemes bungling’s rather in many other such social schemes where money was pouring in like anything. All they had to do was to maintain their passbooks and manage money being deposited by the Government schemes with the connivance of the local postmaster and the musclemen who would get hefty amount as cut money every month.
While I was in the police custody at the policed station, I saw dead body of a young man being brought there. I was told that It was Harakhu who was injured during attack by the musclemen and was thrown out by them in the forest. He reportedly died of over bleeding. Now the police had a chance to further aggravate my problem by adding an additional section 302 in the charges framed against me.
I tried to contact the Headmaster of the school as he had been showing great sympathy towards me whenever I used to talk about these wrong practices with him and would often say few good words about my work as well but all these were eye wash.in fact, he, too, was hand in glove with them and was perhaps a beneficiary of the loot. He had tried to protect the illegal activities of Ranjan on many occasions.
Next day I was produced before the Magistrate who remanded me to 14 days police custody as the Public Prosecutor was, too, much vociferous about seriousness of the crime committed by me which interalia involved murder of an innocent Harakhu with my connivance. As soon as the Magistrate ordered my police custody I was whisked away from the court room to a nearby police van which was kept ready. I started towards endless journey of torture and harassment at the hands of the police who had been doing everything in their command to strengthen the police case against me.
I was suspended from the school because of the criminal case lodged against me. While in the police custody I was subjected to third degree methods to force me to accept the crime which I had never committed. But I had not much option. I signed at the bottom of the blank paper and handed over it to the Police just to escape further harassment. Based on my confessions, the public prosecutor opposed my bail vehemently in the court. The judge agreed with him and sent me to the judicial custody. That is how I landed in the Central Jail.
My case was decided by the Sessions court. Lot of arguments were placed in the court mostly from the side of the prosecutionists. Hardly anybody wanted to tell the court about my side of the story. The judge used to fumble sometimes as he was finding it difficult to believe the prosecution version but the proofs were heavily loaded against me. He, too, had not much option but to pronounce life imprisonment for me on account of murder of Harkhu during the protest march of the villagers.
15 years have passed since I landed in this jail. My behaviour all along was praiseworthy. While in jail I used to teach the inmates. Many of them had acquired formal education with my help. So, jail authorities recommended to the Government to release me before time. The matter was decided favourably and I was released from the jail on the eve of the Independence Day.
I returned to my village just on the Independence Day. Lot of changes had taken place in the village. Many pucca buildings had come up. There was a school just next door. The students there had gathered to celebrate the Independence Day. The tricolour flag was being hoisted. I reached there. Nobody recognised me. I stood silently for a while, saluted the national flag and moved towards my own thatched house in the village. I could not find my house despite best efforts. The house was demolished and the land was occupied unauthorizedly by my close relatives living in the village. I tried to speak to some villagers but none showed any interest. I moved here and there for the whole day. I tried to contact the village heads but the efforts proved futile. I was tired. I could not understand what to do next. I wept for a while and left the village for unknow destination………….
While passing through the forest I saw an old fellow moving around. His face resembled Harakhu. But he had died many years ago. I was punished with the life imprisonment because of his death following fatal injury during the attack by Ranjan and his fellow activists. How can he be there? But his face resembled entirely Harakhu.I gathered Strength and asked him about his identity. He confirmed he was Harakhu. Then he started telling his story. Actually, he had never died. He was alive although he had lot of injuries but Ranjan and his fellow activists had got him declared dead just to implicate me. In fact, he was taken to the hospital by some unknown persons who happened to go through the forest. He recovered miraculously and never returned to his village thereafter.
Harakhu was coming to the village after a long gap. I was immensely surprised by the development. Harakhu took me to the village. There was a great hue and cry. The entire village gathered to see Harakhu alive after such a long gap. Harakhu was given a heroic welcome! Harakhu introduced me to the villagers and told them about conspiracy hatched against me. They were extremely angry with Ranjan and his fellow activists as I had suffered so much without any fault.
The villagers planned to punish Ranjan and his fellow activists who had done so much harm to me. But he fled away from the village. He was running fast across the forest. It was about 8PM.The forest area was looking dangerous. All of a sudden, he felt as if his legs have been tied by something. He could not understand much before he became unconscious. He was attacked by a cobra. Its venom acted fast. Ranjan died within minutes. His dead body was located by passers next day. The villagers gathered around but none had any sympathy for him. They would whisper:” Justice has been done!”. However, they were full of love and sympathy for me.
Next day the villagers held a meeting and decided to restore me my lost house. They located my land and got a house constructed thereupon in a few days. I was feeling satisfied to get back my lost house and also respect among the villagers. Truth had prevailed albeit after a lot of sacrifice………..But it was, too, late. I kept thinking about the past. I got the lost house but what about many golden years of my life which I had already lost?
It was Ten PM. I was, too, much tired so I slept. Next morning, I got up totally refreshed. I heard a voice coming from within “You have won, you have prevailed”.