In a heartening story of communal harmony, Byculla NGO uses Ramzan, Eid donations to offer legal and financial aid to poor undertrials with no criminal history who can't afford to pay for bail
For an 87-year-old from Titwala, it was a bolt from the blue when the police turned up at his house and arrested him for kidnapping and extortion. Advanced age and a serious heart ailment and stomach ulcer had taken their toll on Vijay Dattarey Adhikari, and the senior citizen could not believe the crime he was being accused of. The court recognised his concern and granted him bail, but Adhikari was even more dispirited when he realised he did not have the resources to pay for the bond.
Vijay Adhikari (87) was provided legal assistance by Al-Birr Foundation
But like his arrest, even the answer to his prayers came out of the blue — after a month of imprisonment, Adhikari was released on bail on January 2 after a Mumbai NGO, the Al-Birr Foundation paid Rs 15,000 for his bond.
87-year-old Vijay Adhikari was arrested on charges of kidnapping and extortion. He spent a month in jail as he could not come up with the money for his bail. Pics/Datta Kumbhar
“I am nearing the end of my life and I didn’t want to spend the few days I have left in prison. Every day that I spent in Arthur Road jail, I prayed for some way to get out, back to my family and friends. It is thanks to the NGO that I am now back home,” the senior citizen told mid-day at his residence in Gayatrinam society, Titwala.
Adhikari’s world turned upside down on December 2, when a few officers from the Pydhonie police turned up at his house. At first, it seemed like a casual visit, and they chatted over tea. Suddenly, the 87-year-old found himself being arrested. The cops accused him of kidnapping a man and extorting Rs 5 lakh from him.
Since 2012, Al-Birr Foundation has provided counselling to 1,200 prisoners and has helped 67 inmates with bail, said the founder, Abid Ahmed
“He pointed out the man to me and I was shocked. The man was well-built and around 6 ft tall. I am 87 and my hands tremble even when I am eating; how can I kidnap such a hefty man?” he recalled.
Adhikari was treated kindly in prison and also underwent a surgery for his ulcer free of charge. “I used to hear that prisoners are treated badly, but I was treated well by the authorities. I was provided all the necessities; a blanket for the cold, or bread and milk for meals,” he recalled.
But the elderly man was quite ill; he had had a heart attack in the past and also suffered from blood pressure issues and other problems. More worryingly, Adhikari had no idea when he would be able get out of jail. As a retired punter at Mahalaxmi race course, he didn’t have much by the way of savings. Adhikari had never married and the only family he has is his 43-year-old son whom he had adopted from his sister.
It was the NGO that came to his aid, providing the R15,000 required for his release. “While Adhikari was imprisoned in Arthur Road jail, he was ill most of the time. The prison officers and doctor suggested his case to us on an emergency basis,” said Abid Ahmed (31), founder of Al-Birr Foundation, which provides legal and financial aid to prisoners who have no prior criminal history.
The NGO seeks to break the vicious circle of crime by zeroing in on prisoners with no criminal history providing them counselling, legal and financial assistance when applying for bail. Since 2012, the Byculla-based foundation’s 30 members and 300-odd volunteers have provided counselling to 1,200 prisoners and offered bail assistance to 67 inmates in the past three years across Mumbai, Thane, Navi-Mumbai and Kalyan. The work is funded through Ramzan and Eid contributions (zakaat), but the NGO does not restrict the benefits to the Muslim community.
“We do not decide cases on the basis of religion. Since the first day, our aim was to help non-habitual criminals who cannot afford bail,” said Ahmed, adding that the initiative had started out as a counselling programme for jail criminals.
“Our aim was to provide counselling to criminals and move them towards the right path. In June 2012, the then joint commissioner of Mumbai Police, KL Prasad suggested we could also help prisoners with bail. He told us that if first-time offenders are helped with bail, it would reduce the chances of hardened criminals pushing them into further crime,” he added.
Fatima Kausar Inayat Hussain (48) claims she had been working as a volunteer during the Haj pilgrimage for the past 18 years but ran into trouble in October 2012, when the airport authorities did not allow her through and arrested her on charges of falsifying documents. Her sister sold her jewellery and gathered Rs 40,000 to help her, but this money was stolen.
It was in February 2013 that Fatima was released on bail, after Al-Birr paid her bond of Rs 25,000. “Even though the court had approved bail for me, I had to stay in jail because I didn’t have cash. It was difficult for me, as I was frequently ill. I am happy the foundation helped me,” she said.
Mumbra-resident Wahida Mastan Shaikh was booked by the police in August 2013 for allegedly pushing her 14-year-old daughter in the flesh trade.
Wahida gave birth to another girl in prison, and matters were further complicated when she slipped and fractured her leg. Taking this into consideration, the court granted her bail and the NGO paid Rs 23,000 as her surety, after which she and her 10-month-old daughter were released on May 31, 2014.
The case of 18-year-old Lakhan Amrut Chavan is particularly interesting. The Koparkhairane resident was a drug addict and was arrested by the police on charges of robbery. During the 10 months he was in prison, the youth was regularly counselled by the foundation and finally helped him with his bail. Speaking to mid-day from his Kolhapur home, Chavan said, “I had to wait for 10 months to get out of jail as my mother didn’t have money. Now, I am out and am a changed person. I am grateful to the NGO for helping me.”
How it works
>> The NGO works in collaboration with the Arthur Road jail, women’s prison in Byculla, Thane Central jail, Kalyan Aadharwadi jail and Taloja jail
>> Jail authorities provide a list of prisoners whose bail has been approved by court but cannot afford the bond
>> NGO looks for those who have no prior criminal history
>> Preference is given to those who are aged, ailing or with child
>> The inmate is provided counselling and his/her details are verified
>> NGO has 15 advocates who help inmates with bail procedure, while the foundation pays the bond for them
IG (Prisons) Bhushan Kumar Upadhyay appreciated the NGO’s initiative and said, “The organisation should be encouraged for the good effort, as very few come forward for such good work. We will always support such initiatives.”
Number of prisoners the foundation has bailed out since 2012
Number of prisoners counselled in the same period