Ajay Babu, a 21-year-old man from Uttar Pradesh, had come to Kerala at the end of January this year, in search of a job. After over four long months in Kerala, fraught with a slew of unpleasant experiences, he finally returned to his native place in UP.
Ajay was stranded in an unknown state, jobless, forced to beg at one point, due to the COVID-19 related lockdown. In fact, Ajay made news in March when he stole Rs 600 from a bank in Kasaragod to quell his hunger, and later when he escaped the Central Jail in the neighbouring Kannur district to call his mother.
Moved by his plight, Kerala prison officials helped the 21-year-old secure bail and join his family in Uttar Pradesh. It was a happy reunion for Ajay Babu when he reached his village Sisolar in Hamirpur district, Uttar Pradesh, on Monday afternoon, said officials.
It was made possible thanks to the collective efforts of some good samaritans in the Kerala jail department, a lawyer from Kasaragod district, and officials of the Kerala State Legal Services Authority who were sympathetic to the man's ordeal.
Ajay was given Rs 500 pocket money, food, water, two pairs of clothes and a sleeper class ticket to a Delhi-bound train from Kannur on Saturday.
How police officials helped Ajay
Speaking to TNM, T K Janardhanan, Superintendent of Kannur Special Sub Jail, said that Ajay is a migrant worker who reached Kerala in search of a job. In February, he found a job at a restaurant in Kasaragod. â€śAjay said that he was not only overworked but the restaurant owner did not pay him his wages. After working there for a week, he left his job. Then, unable to find any job, he took to begging in Kasaragod town to sustain himself. But how many times would people offer money to a known face in the area? It was then he decided to break into a bank in the town,â€ť the Superintendent said.
Ajay broke into a Canara bank on March 24 and made away with Rs 600 from the cash box, which, he said, he spent to get food from a nearby eatery. He later slept in the area itself.
He was arrested the next day based on the CCTV footage. As per the COVID-19 protocol on March 25, he was lodged in an isolation room at the Central Jail in Kannur. A week later, he escaped from the Central Prison at night, as he allegedly wanted to retrieve his phone seized by the Kasaragod police, so that he could speak to his mother, the official said.
â€śAjay wanted to head back to Kasaragod to get his phone. But it was the lockdown and he knew neither the direction nor distance between Kannur and Kasaragod,â€ť said Janardhanan.
He was later found lying unconscious near a railway track by locals, and the police took him into custody again. â€śSince a prisoner who has escaped cannot be brought back to the same jail due to COVID-19 protocols, he was brought to the Special Sub Jail,â€ť said Janardhanan, who took charge as its Superintendent on May 4.
â€śWhen I took charge as the superintendent, there were 100 inmates. We had a direction from the Prison Director General of Police Rishiraj Singh, to arrange for sending prisoners in remand on bail to avoid crowding during COVID-19. It was during the process that I met Ajay. However, he could not recollect the name of his village accurately as he is not educated. With the information I gathered from the Kasaragod police, I managed to find his village in Hamirpur district of Uttar Pradesh on Google,â€ť recalled the jail superintendent.
Hamirpur district police helped trace Ajay's home address, Janardhanan said. His family, however, did not have the money to pay the bail bond. By then, Ajayâ€™s story was all over the media, following which many individuals offered to help Ajay with the money, flight ticket and food.
â€śHowever, due to the procedures, we could not allow that. But his family finally managed to collect Rs 25,000 for the bail bond from their friends and relatives, which they paid online,â€ť he said.
Advocate Kumaran Nair, a noted lawyer from Kasaragod district, extended free legal assistance to Ajay for securing bail in the bank theft case. The Legal Services Authorities helped him to get relief in the jail escape case, availing him the benefit of decongesting prisons due to COVID-19 lockdown and releasing those facing petty crimes, Janarshanan said.
"Ajay was received by his relatives at the Jhansi railway station on Monday morning. His mother called me on Tuesday morning, saying she slept well after three months, and that they had meals together,â€ť Janardhanan told TNM.
(With inputs from PTI)