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Page last updated at 16:06 GMT, Sunday, 24 July 2005 17:06 UK

Inmate's 50 years without trial

By Subir Bhaumik
BBC News, Calcutta

A villager in India's north-eastern state of Assam has been released from prison after spending more than half a century behind bars without a trial.

Seventy-seven year old Machang Lalung was arrested in 1951 from his native village of Silsang, 64km (40 miles) from the state's main city of Guwahati.

Police said that Mr Lalung, who is from the Lalung tribe, was booked for "causing grievous hurt".

The offence normally results in 10 years imprisonment.

'Trouble-maker'

But police said there was no evidence to support the allegation, so within a year of his arrest, he was transferred to a psychiatric institution.

"It seems the police just forgot about him thereafter," says Assamese human rights activist Sanjay Borbora.

Indian prison
Mr Lalung was a victim of prison bureaucracy and neglect

In 1967, the authorities at the institution certified Mr Lalung as "fully fit" and said that they intended to release him.

But instead of being freed, police transferred him to another jail.

"Even at this point, the police did not send him to court to face trial, they just kept him in prison," Mr Borbora said.

Strangely, even his relatives and family members forgot about Machang Lalung.

Last year, local human rights activists brought Machang's case to the attention of the National Human Rights Commission, which took up the case immediately and sought his release.

He was finally freed last week after paying a token personal bond of one rupee (two cents).

'Cruel system'

Magistrate HK Sarma, who released Mr Lalung, lashed out at the Assamese and Indian "snail-paced and inefficient" legal system.

"Neither the executive nor the judiciary avoid responsibility for Machang Lalung's detention for so long on the grounds of mere procedure or technicalities," Mr Sarma said.

"At stake is the question of life and liberty of a person in judicial custody for 54 years, who was not brought to trial even long after his recovery from mental illness," he said.

Mr Borbora says Machang should now sue the police - but said that after so long he is perhaps not interested.

The police did not send him to court to face trial, they just kept him in prison
Assamese human rights activist Sanjay Borbora

"He is a simple villager and his life has been destroyed by a cruel system . He should sue the authorities for millions of rupees but I don't think he is even aware he could it," said Mr Borbora.

After Mr Lalung's release, he was escorted back to his village, where only one villager, Benu Lalung, recognised him.

"We handed him over to the village headman but could not find his family or relatives," said B Das, a police official.

He said that Mr Lalung had almost forgotten about his past and does not remember anything about his village now.

"He just did not react at all when he arrived at Silsang," Mr Das said.


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