After spending eight years in jail, Mumna Bano, a 82 year-old woman and wife of late Wahab, finally got to return to her house in Hukulganj, where she had lived with her two daughters and four grandchildren before she was sent off to jail on false charges in 2015.
How and when did this happen?
Mumna Bano, a resident of house Hukulganj, Thana Cantt, District Varanasi, was released from jail on May 16. Languising in jail for eight long years she was unable to get herself released due to the family’s impoverishment. Bano had been jailed (Case Crime No. 626/2015), where she had remained in jail for eight years. Despite having been granted bail, she was not able to come out of jail because she was unable to deposit the fine of Rs.7000 in the court. She was the oldest among 200 female prisoners in the jail.
Since October-November 2022, the Supreme Court of India has been highlighting the tragedy of such similar cases where, because of non-payment of surety amount, under trials languish in jail. It was David D’Costa of Bengaluru who took on this noble task, urging CJP with its wide network to locate such cases to ensure their release. D’Costa had been struck by recent Supreme Court observations in similar cases. “I want people to hear about Munna’s release so this step we have taken spirals into a movement,” D’Costa told CJP. “This is a travesty of justice, I am doing my bit for at least four more such deserving persons. “In May and November 2022 when I read of over 300 such persons languishing in our jails –under trials whose inability to furnish bail bonds and surety bonds has left them with no option but to stay in prison, I acted. I have resolved to personally put up money for at least five such prisoners.”
A unique breakthrough
Citizens for Justice and Peace, a human rights organisation dedicated to protecting and uplifting the underprivileged, has been working tirelessly to assist those who are oppressed and systematically ignored. To be able to assist Mumna Bano in reaching her destination represents a collective and collaborative victory of those who believed in the organisation and donated to further its mission. The donation by the donor will allow the CJP team to release four more deserving prisoners. CJP aspires to assist many others, such as Mumna Bano, in fighting state-sanctioned oppression.
CJP and team takes over Bano’s case:
CJP’s team, led by Dr Muniza Khan, met the jailer several times, speaking with them about our intention to help five such prisoners from the underprivileged society, and help them come out of the jail. The first name that the jailer gave CJP was that of Bano, telling the team that she is very old, and if a deposit of Rs. 7000 could be made on her behalf, then she would be able to walk out of jail. Taking over her case, and seeking the help of lawyers, the team deposited the fine in the court on May 15, post which Bano was released from jail. On the evening of May 16, 2023, Bano’s daughter went to the jail to pick her up and bring her home. Speaking to the team, Bano told us how the economic condition of her family was so bad that despite having been granted bail, she was not able to pay Rs. 7000, and thus, had to stay in jail for all these years.
Bano has by now, spent eight long years of her life lodged in Chowkghat jail of Varanasi. Her crime? The case made out against her was that Bano’s daughter-in-law was burnt due to an explosion of the stove for which she was indicted. Bano explains that after the accident, she had immediately taken her daughter-in-law to a government hospital, namely Kabir Chaura government hospital, where she was also admitted. At the hospital, Bano’s daughter-in-law had even given a statement saying that, “I was accidentally burnt due to the explosion of stove, and there is no fault of my own or in-laws”. But, since the daughter-in-law tragically died in this accident, her parents filed a case against Bano and her son under Section-498A, 304B and Section-3/4 of the Indian Penal Code Dowry Resistance Act in Police Station Cantt, District Varanasi.
It was the day after her release that team CJP reached Bano’s house around noon to meet her. After walking for about 15 minutes, along with Bano’s daughter, passing through the narrow and crooked lanes well inside the road, the team reached Mumna’s house. The house was just a dilapidated small room. Bano was sitting on a mat on the floor in that room while the food was being cooked by burning wood at a small place outside the room.
Expressing her gratitude, Bano thanked all those people who helped her deposit her fine. When Bano was asked how she came to know that she had been released, she replied that “The jailer called me and said that now you will be released, and your fine of Rs 7000 has been deposited by an organisation. I was very happy to hear that now I will go home, I am being released. My daughter came to pick me up, and I got to come home with her. When I reached home, I could not recognise my daughter’s children. Because the kids have grown up a lot. My grandchildren also could not recognised me. My daughter made halwa for me on the occasion of my arrival. My neighbours and relatives also came to visit”.
Bano seemed very happy to just get together with her daughters and her grandchildren. When the team asked Bano’s daughter regarding how she was feeling, she said that “seeing my mother at her home, I could just not believe that she is here with us. It was not expected that my old mother would come out of jail. Where did we have so much money that we could get our mother out of jail? We all are very happy and think that even today good people are here who help poor people.”
Bano’s life in jail:
When the team who had gone to meet her at her house asked Bano what she ate in jail, she replied, “dal, roti aur ghas-phoos khane ko milta tha”. Ghass – phoos here means cheap saag, she explains. Bano also said that she had lost her eyesight in jail due to a cataract. Even when the jailer admitted Bano to a government hospital for receiving a cataract operation, her eyesight did not return completely.
She also mentioned that towards the beginning of her incarnation, the jailers used to make Bano do some work. But then, considering her old age, the jailer stopped making her do any work. While she spoke about other aspects about her life in jail, she stressed on the solidarity and togetherness she experienced with women in the cell. When the team asked Bano whether she faced any kind of discrimination while living amongst women prisoners inside the jail, Bano said that this was not the case, and that they all live together.
Bano also spoke about a female prisoner named Nandini, who had helped her a lot during her jail time. She fondly remembered how Nandini would always wash Bano’s clothes, bring her food and would always take care of her. She told the team that Nandini was also getting released from the jail on May 18. When the team asked her whether she would like to meet Nandini, Bano replied by saying that she would definitely meet Nandini. She said that Nandini’s house was about 15 kilometres away from her house.
Bano has five daughters and a son. Since her husband had died an early death, she had to bring up her children by making beedis for a living. All her daughters had gotten married. Today, one daughter is a widow with four small children, the other is abandoned and has no children, while the remaining three live outside Banaras. Bano’s son is in jail. Bano lives with her two daughters and her four grandchildren in a small room. These seven people live in a small room of 12 feet x 12 feet.
SC directions on languishing under trials
In May 2022, a Supreme Court bench had issued the following directions related to similar cases.
Directions passed in the order passed on May 9, 2022:
- “Every High Court shall give us details of all such orders which remain to be complied with and about the persons concerned who are still languishing in jail. One of the ways to address the problem would be to have a register and maintain the figures as to in how many matters orders directing release of the persons on bail were issued and if out of such total number of matters, any person stood deprived of the opportunity of being released on bail for some reason or the other. The Register must indicate the reason including whether proper security etc. could be arranged by the concerned person or not. Such matters should then be listed before the concerned court in the succeeding month and the fact that the person has not yet been released on bail, be brought to the notice of the concerned Court under whose orders the relief of bail was afforded to the person(s).
- Let the details be given by each High Court within six weeks from today. Before parting, we must record that the petitioner has now been released on bail. In effect, where the custody of a person for 9 years was found to be sufficient to entitle him to be released on bail, is now turned into custody for 11 years. This is nothing but 5 reincarnation of Hussainara Khatoon & Moti Ram.”