Arumugam Kounder left his tiny village in the Tamil Nadu province and set off for Mumbai in early 1995 hoping for a better life. He slept on the pavement until finding work as a road sweeper and garbage collector. Three months after he arrived in the city, he was arrested for the rape and murder of a minor.
He spent six years in custody awaiting trial and then, speaking barely a word of Hindi, endured a trial he didn’t understand. He didn’t even know what he was being charged with, let alone how serious it was. He was convicted in 2000. A year later, in January 2001, the arresting officer in Kounder’s case, Abdul Qadir Bargir, committed suicide leaving behind a note in which he confessed to framing the illiterate street cleaner on the orders of his superiors.
Last week, almost six years after the officer’s death, Kounder was released from prison and acquitted of all charges. The letters that had been written for him and sent to his wife and children had been returned to the prison unopened since late 1996.
“My first priority is to find my family,” he said on release, with no money or belongings to his name. “I want to know where they are and if they still want me back.”
“It has been a terrible time but what can you do? I will try to let bygones be bygones,” Kounder said. The National Human Rights Commission of India said they were planning to file for compensation on Kounder’s behalf.
Two of the many people living on the pavements outside my hotel in Mumbai, those whom I mentioned a couple of columns ago, became parents shortly before I left with the national team to travel to Ahmedabad. I walked past the heavily pregnant lady and her husband every day and she smiled when I took her fruit.
Then, one morning, there was the baby, wrapped in an orange cloth with red string tied around her ankles and waist to make sure she couldn’t kick it off. She was lying on the straw mat one evening between, on the pavement, with her doting parents lying either side of her staring at her with beaming smiles.
I smiled, too, and offered them some money. I tried to talk to them but they didn’t speak English and were shy. So I asked an elderly porter from the Bombay Hospital who was taking a break whether he could help translate. He was a little rude, I thought, and sounded decidedly sniffy when he repeated their story: “They are not married,” he said, looking over his black framed glasses, “they say they eloped to the city when she fell pregnant.”
When the old man asked, on my behalf, where the young girl had given birth, the young Dad, Munif, replied: “Right here!” as he pointed at the mat. Munif said he earns 25 rupees (R5) per day as some sort of cleaner, but 40 (R8) for ‘extra days’. He said he sends half of it home.
“Jaba Kishore Mandal, the 16-year-old girl from Bongaon on the Bangladesh border, who was sold in Mumbai, spoke to her parents after nearly ten months after she was rescued by the Than crime branch on Monday.”
“The girl’s travails ended after she was rescued from the clutches of a person who had purchased her for 20,000 roupees.”
As an opening two paragraphs, they couldn’t pack much more “uuuuhhh???” factor if they tried. At least not for those unaccustomed to reading Indian newspapers.
It turns out that the girl’s parents lived in abject poverty so when a well-to-do lady, a complete stranger, visted their house and promised to find the girl a good job in the city, the parents agreed in the hope that Jaba would be able to send some money back to them once she was employed. Jaba was, of course, immediately sold into slavery by the woman as soon
as she reached the city.
Remember the story I once told in this column about England paceman Andy Caddick’s maiden tour to the Caribbean? How a journalist from the Barbados Chronicle had described him in his match report as “…the big-eared Andy Caddick.”
Caddick stormed into the press box the following day, located his man, and demanded an apology.
The following day the match report ended something like this: “England were bowled out for just 185 leaving Desmond Haynes and Gordon Greenidge to knock off the required 110 runs for an easy and well-deserved victory. “And I am sorry that Andy Caddick has big ears.”
Well, I am pleased to say that, following SA’s loss to New Zealand in their opening Champions Trophy match, we now have a contender for “Most amusing irrelevance in a sports report” thanks to the efforts of Rahul Fernandes writing in the Times of India: “Former captain Shaun Pollock, who has not just lost pace but also some of his hair, showed why he is still an indispensable part of the South African line-up.”
Oh yes, the Champions Trophy. I knew there was a reason we were here. It’s hard enough staying focussed on the cricket when South Africa is the only team here, but practically impossible when the whole cricket playing world arrives and we have to wait eight days between games. Eight days in Ahmedabad. “I don’t know what we’re going to do with ourselves, I really don’t,” admitted Jacques Kallis. And it’s true – there really isn’t anything to ‘do’. Ahmedabad is a ‘dry’ state, too, so the option of a cold beer in the hotel bar isn’t there either.
Anyone fancy a couple of cold glasses of mineral water?
Actually, far more challenging is to see how close – out of a hundred – you can get to understanding the mind of a man who has his family, and 11 years, taken away from his life and then says ‘let bygones be bygones.’ If you get to, say, five, then you’re on your way to eternal peace, forgiveness and happiness. Or you deserve to be.
It’s Diwali on Saturday. Happy Diwali to all who celebrate it – and to those who don’t, for that matter.
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Feel free to get in touch.