An English-speaking Indian woman – who had the misfortune of being framed in a murder case and spending 13 long years in jail before she was honorably acquitted – has made it her life’s mission to fight for those languishing behind bars for no fault of theirs.
Aparajita Bose studied at Kolkata’s Loreto convent and did her BA in English Literature before getting married. When she was 31 and a mother of two boys, her husband, Kunal Bose, was mysteriously killed and the police arrested her along with prime accused Nantu Roy. In 2000, they were convicted for Kunal’s murder and given life terms.
Aparajita was in jail from the year 2000 to 2013 before her appeal against her conviction and life sentence, pronounced by the trial judge, could be heard by Calcutta High Court. The High Court initially released her on bail and then it gave her a clean chit and set her free.
Her mother-in-law, however, appealed to the Supreme Court against her acquittal. But India’s highest court too ruled that there was no nexus between Aparajita and Nantu.
While in prison, Aparajita dreamt of being reunited one day with her sons who were minors when she was picked up on a trumped up charge. Tragically, her grown-up children disowned her after she tasted freedom. But their rejection steeled her resolve to rescue hapless prisoners from what she calls the “clutches” of law.
Today she devotes all her time and energy to leading human rights NGO, Human Rights Law Network, whose Kolkata chapter specializes in providing legal aid to jail inmates. Aparajita moves ceaselessly from Kolkata’s Alipore and Presidency jails to prisons in various towns of West Bengal like Midnapore, Behrampore, Malda and Balurghat. She also speaks in impeccable English at seminars on jail reforms and welfare of prisoners.
“Women suffer more than men in jail. While a male prisoner is accepted by his family and society after completing his sentence, women face rejection and stigmatization even after they are given a clean cheat by a court and released unconditionally. And separation from her children is very traumatic for female prisoners”, Aparajita told Al Arabiya. “Hence rescuing women from jails must be given top priority.”
B.D. Sharma, retired Indian Police Service officer who went out of his way to humanize West Bengal’s notorious jails and is still an Advisor in the Prison Department, said: “Aparajita is well educated; a graduate; and knows prison life inside out. Who else can take up cudgels on behalf of prisoners better than her?”
Determined to fight
Savio Pinto, Coordinator of HRLN’s Kolkata chapter, too is full of praise for Aparajita. “Initially we hired to man the reception but her job profile changed when her determination to fight for prisoners became evident. At present, she visits jail after jail to talk to prisoners and extend legal aid to them. She painstakingly goes through prison and court records and liases with advocates.”
“Besides God, without whose blessings I wouldn’t have tasted freedom, I am grateful to my lawyer, Jayanta Narayan Chatterjee who is an outstanding counsel, and my brother, Sudipto Ganguly, who stood like a rock when darkness enveloped my life”, Aparajita said.
Jayanta says that due to the backlog of cases in the High Court, Aparajita’s appeal against her conviction and sentence was heard well after a decade. “Despite not being guilty, she had to undergo the pain and humiliation of imprisonment. She is a victim of India’s over-stretched judicial redressal system”, said the counsel.
Aparajita enjoys the distinction of delivering a talk on her ordeal at the prestigious Tata Institute of Social Sciences in Mumbai. Clearly, her own pain drives her to alleviate the suffering of others. In a sense, she is also living up to her name. Aparajita in Bengali means undefeatable.