Can you imagine spending 5 years of your life in a jail when you know that you have done nothing to deserve it? Most of us wouldn’t even give a second thought before deciding that a convict is guilty of something or the other, but unfortunately, we remain oblivious to the fact that many of those prisoners in Indian jails are not even aware of the reason why they are in there. Nearly 2.5 lakh people locked in Indian prisons are not yet proven guilty. They are undertrials who have not been convicted by the courts and are awaiting justice.
This is the photo narrative of one forgotten and faceless undertrial and his journey towards freedom.
Prajwal; Residing in a small village near Mysore.
Age: 23 years
Prajwal loved his mother dearly. In a family with 2 brothers and a sister, he was the youngest and the most pampered.
One fateful night in 2009, his life changed when he was sitting in a bar with his friends in Mysore. The police came, arrested him and threw him into jail.
Prajwal was subsequently charged by the police in 14 cases of theft. He was tortured in police custody and was forced to not reveal the truth to the judge. Prajwal was locked away and became one of the many thousands of undertrials in India awaiting justice. The wait took away 5 years of his life. While Prajwal languished in jail, his family had no access to him. The system had made him invisible.
It was a long wait until justice was delivered. Prajwal was finally acquitted in all 14 cases in 2014, after 5 years of detention. He was proven innocent, yet was kept behind bars for 19 days after the final acquittal. It was another tragedy of miscommunication in the system. The jail authorities thought he still had 3 cases against him and did not release him.
Amnesty International India identified Prajwal’s case early this year. On 23rd February 2014, researchers collected his acquittal orders from the courts, delivered them to jail authorities and secured his freedom. The entire process took only 45 minutes.
“We can’t do much…so I thought if he is dead, he is dead. We will then live believing that we have only one son”, said Prajwal’s mother. Despite being innocent, Prajwal spent over 5 years locked away. He is now trying to make up for lost time with friends and family.
He met his niece for the first time. She was born while he was in prison.
Putting his past behind him, Prajwal has now moved on. He is 28-years-old, has a government job, wishes to find love and get married.
A team of researchers and campaigners from Amnesty International India and a photographer visited Prajwal’s (name changed) village after he was released.
His identity has been concealed in these photos to protect his privacy.