Among the 23 convicts who walked free from the Mysuru Central jail on the 68th Republic Day was 47-year-old Jagadish.
A local politician in Bogadi village in Mysuru district the time, Jagadish was just 28 years old when he was convicted for murder in 1997, and had spent the last 20 years in jail. But he took the chances he could find in prison, using his time not only to rethink his life but also pursue the education he had left behind for a career in politics.
“I was convicted on July 16, 1997 for murder. I was only 28 and was elected as a member of the Gram Panchayat. I was also the BJP Yuva Morcha President at the time. In that year, two youths were murdered at Harsha Bar in Bogadi. I was convicted in that case along with nine others,” recounts Jagadish.
The victims, Raja and Lokesh, were friends and had come to the bar for a few drinks. Lokesh was the son of a JD (S) leader in Bogadi, said Jagadish.
“The two were always getting into trouble and they had also got themselves into scuffles with some local bootleggers at the time. Two of the three prime accused in the case were the bootleggers. The three men had ended up killing Raja and Lokesh due to the fight,” Jagadish said.
He also claimed that when the police arrested him, he was clueless about the murder. “I had not even seen the body. But there were witnesses who alleged that they saw me with the others. I know I did not kill anyone and I think I got released because I tried very hard to be a good human being,” Jagadish said.
Jagadish had studied up to Pre-University College, but had discontinued his under-graduate studies as he became interested in local politics.
In prison, however, the written word came back to Jagadish in an unexpected way. He recalls the moment when another inmate had seen him sitting alone and trying to come to terms with his loneliness, and had given him a book of short stories.
“That was the day I started reading for pleasure and it helped me cope immensely. I had discontinued my BA course in the middle of the first year, as I became interested in elections. I got convicted at a very young age. Being in a prison can be very depressing and I turned towards books to forget about my loneliness,” Jagadish recalls.
What began with him frequenting the prison library eventually turned into a return to formal education. “I was a regular at the prison library, and a few years later I heard about the open-university programme. I joined the undergraduate course in arts on April 30, 2003. After I started studying, I felt like I had a purpose,” he explains.
Jagadish went on to pursue his Masters in political science and economics. He has completed the exams for his final year and is awaiting the results.
The jail authorities are all praise for Jagadish too. "Jagadish was always the quiet kind. As far as I remember, he was always with a book. All the prison guards identified him in the same way. There were eight inmates who enrolled for the Post Graduate programme last year. Jagadish had inspired them to take up the course. His good behaviour had him earn the post of the night watchman for 94 months. I hope he finds happiness," said Divya, Jail Superintendent, Mysuru Central Jail.
“Life as a leader in my village had put me in a life of power. I did not realise how chaotic and disruptive it could be. I never want to be associated with it any more. Come to think of it, even now, as I’m in the bus on my way home, all I can think of is a nice warm meal and a chance to spend time with my family,” Jagadish said.