"Men who committed heinous crimes could sleep peacefully but I would just lay awake in agony," says Raja.

Couldnt even see my kids grow up TN man imprisoned for 22 years for murder he didnt commit
news Human Rights Friday, June 02, 2017 - 19:56

At age 46, Raja Hussain has returned home after spending 22 years in prison for a crime of which he was finally acquitted. When he was first arrested, he and his wife had a one-year-old son and were expecting their second child.

He didn’t get to watch his daughter being born, take her first steps, grow into a young woman and get married. He didn’t get to see his son through his school years, watch him graduate with an Engineering degree or get his first job.

"There is no bigger punishment than being imprisoned for a crime you did not commit," says Raja Hussain in a rasping voice. The distinct gravelly texture of his voice, he says, comes from over two decades of near complete solitude in prison.

Raja was amongst the six men convicted for the brutal murder of Hindu Munnani President Rajagopalan in 1994. In the investigations that followed this sensational crime, three suspects from Coimbatore and three from Madurai, including Raja, were arrested. A case was registered against the accused under the provisions of the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act.

74 pieces of documentary evidence, 13 pieces of material evidence and 32 prosecution witnesses were examined before a TADA court in Tirunelveli directed that all the accused be imprisoned for life.

However, 22 years after the iron scrap merchant lost his faith in the judiciary, the Supreme Court finally came to his rescue. On April 30, the apex court set aside the conviction of all six accused and stated that the criminal proceedings for prosecution under the TADA Act were entirely vitiated. The Bench comprising Justice Pinaki Chandra Ghose and Justice RF Nariman held that even the sanction order was illegal.

The sole breadwinner of his family when he was arrested, Raja has spent the most productive years of his life staring at prison walls, while his family struggled in the outside world to make ends meet.

"What was I coming back to? A son who could hardly recollect memories with his father, a daughter whose birth I was not even present for and mounds of debt that had collected while I was rotting in jail," he says forcefully.

A free man bound by shackles of his past

On May 16, Raja Hussain walked out as a free man from the Cuddalore central prison but there is no elation evident in his voice as he describes this moment. "For 22 years, I prayed to Allah every night and hoped that at least he would hear my voice. I was kept all alone in a cell. Do you know how painful it is to be lonely?" he asks, his voice breaking.

"Do you know how it feels to be treated like an animal? To be told when to sleep, when to eat and what to eat? I do not wish that fate upon my worst enemy," he adds, in almost a whisper.

It was only after being arrested, Raja says, that he first learned who the leader he was accused of murdering even was. To make matters worse, he conversed for the first time with his co-accused only after they were all imprisoned for life, he claims.

"My only crime was that I was born a Muslim and into a poor family," he says. "Men who committed heinous crimes could sleep peacefully but I would just lay awake in agony," he adds.

A family left behind

After he was accused in the murder case, Raja's relatives allegedly began to distance themselves from his family, afraid that they would be targeted by the police too.

And shifted seven times between four prisons in Tamil Nadu, Raja could not even offer his family the chance of seeing him regularly. While they tried to visit him at least once every month, there were many months when they simply couldn’t afford to do so.

While Raja was stuck behind bars, it was his elder sister who came forward to help his family. She ensured that his son completed his Engineering degree and even managed to get his daughter married, despite the stigma that inevitably came from mentioning that her father was in prison.

"My sister's love for me kept my family alive. I am forever indebted to her," says Raja. "But now, I owe her so much money and will have to repay all that she has done for us. At the age of 46, when most people settle down, I will have to figure out my life and how to stand on my own two feet," he laments.

But before he goes on to tackle the outside world Raja has challenges within his own home. "My son is educated and a good man. All these years he has told his friends that his father is abroad. My family has lived a lie outside our immediate surroundings. Perhaps my biggest challenge would be to reconnect with him," he says.

What about his daughter? "She is married and in another house now. She even has children," he says, with a hollow laugh. "My grandchildren may be my redemption. Perhaps I can show them the love, that I did not get a chance to show my own children. Maybe this time I can see my (grand)children grow and even be part of that beautiful journey," he adds, his voice weighed down by emotion.



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