The bail plea of a 48-year-old woman, who is serving a life sentence for killing her husband and assaulting her step-daughter in a fit of rage nine years ago, has presented a Delhi High Court bench with an unusual predicament. No one from her family is willing to stand surety and take her home.
Her case is expected to take its next turn on November 3 after the bench receives a report on the issue from a New Delhi-based shelter home for homeless women with mental illness.
The shelter home, Sudinalaya, was called in by the bench after Tihar Jail records showed that the woman — in custody since the attack on September 22, 2005 — had begun to display “severe schizophrenic behaviour” during her imprisonment.
The bench initially referred her to the Institute of Human Behaviour & Allied Sciences (IHBAS). It observed later, “The report from IHBAS guides us that so critical was her condition that at one stage doctors thought fit to subject her to Modified Electro Convulsion Therapy.”
The bench then sought the intervention of Sreerupa Mitra Chaudhury from Sudinalaya to help break the impasse.
“It would be futile for us to hear arguments in the appeal at this stage for the reason that her mental condition is such that she is not in a position to give any instructions to her lawyer. It would be useless to admit her to bail even on a personal bond because when she steps out of Tihar Jail she has no place to go,” the bench of Justice Pradeep Nandrajog and Justice Mukta Gupta observed.
Sudinalaya’s Chaudhury, who met the woman for the first time last month, told Newsline, “She has been recovering well. She speaks fondly of her brother and six sisters. We are very hopeful.”
Mitra added that her team would soon interact with the woman’s family to find a solution regarding her bail plea. “She wants to go back to her family. Our first priority is to talk to the family and find out the reasons for their actions. This is the first step in our evaluation,” she said.
In fact, jail records reveal that that her brother and three of her sisters have been regularly visiting the woman. But given her medical record, they are not willing to take her with them.
There are other options available, Chaudhury said. “We have sought the court’s permission to visit her for evaluating her condition. If the family does not accept her, our next option is to evaluate whether she can live independently. Otherwise, we will evaluate if she can stay at the shelter home with assistance,” she added.
According to court records, the prosecution proved that the woman killed her husband – a businessman and widower who had remarried – and stabbed his daughter from the previous marriage with a knife at their house in Madhu Vihar following a quarrel over food. She claimed that she had been ill-treated by the two but was convicted by a trial court in New Delhi on August 21, 2010.
Her step-daughter died after a month of the attack but the court did not hold the woman liable for that death. It observed, “She died after one month of the incident… It is a matter of record that she was discharged from hospital after surgery and treatment and she was staying with her uncle thereafter. In such circumstances, possibility of some intervening cause, such as lack of proper care leading to death, cannot be ruled out.”
Hearing the bail plea, the High Court bench observed on the circumstances of her imprisonment: “The record of the evidence before the trail Judge would evidence that she became a victim of circumstances and the adverse condition in which women in India find themselves and especially those who belong to the weaker socio-economic strata of the society.”
Chaudhury plans to meet her once again over the next few days before approaching the family. The woman, meanwhile, sits alone inside her cell in Tihar jail, sticking to her favourite routine: cutting flowers, creating her own patterns and arranging them into designs.