Narayan Chetanaram Chaudary is 39 years old and has spent almost two-thirds of his life in the shadow of the gallows. In 1994, he and two others were sentenced to death for the murder of five members of a family that included a pregnant woman and two children — a ‘rarest of the rare’ case.
But in the 25 years he has spent in Pune’s Yerwada Central Jail, Narayan has worked towards making himself a model prisoner with the hope that it would help in the commutation of his death sentence.
Unlettered when he went to jail, Narayan taught himself Marathi and Hindi and went on to finish a BA in Social Science, MA in Sociology and completed a course in Tourism from open universities. He has virtually exhausted all legal options after his death sentence was confirmed by the Bombay High Court and twice by the Supreme Court in 2000.
But Narayan’s story is about to change. It is his education, not the degrees he earned in prison but a year-and-half of schooling he had as a kid in Rajasthan’s Bikaner district, that is promising him a fresh lease of life.
Narayan discovered that he could not have been awarded the death penalty as he was barely 14 years old when he was sentenced. He moved the Supreme Court in October last year, seeking a recall of the earlier court rulings confirming his death sentence.
In 1994, the sessions court in Pune had recorded Narayan’s age as 20 years and he was tried and convicted as an adult under the Indian Penal Code. But Narayan was only 14 years old, a juvenile who could not have been awarded the death sentence.
However, the issue was never raised in court by Narayan during his trial. Narayan’s lawyer in the Supreme Court had argued that his young age must be considered as a mitigating circumstance but the court had refused to entertain the argument.
His case was reopened in January this year and Narayan obtained his school documents from a government school in Bikaner — he had dropped out after 18 months — and from the district administration that records his date of birth.
In January, a three-judge bench of the Supreme Court directed the Principal District and Sessions Judge of Pune to decide whether Narayan was a juvenile when the crime was committed.
The Pune police have concluded, in a report submitted to the Supreme Court, that in 1994, when the crime was committed, Narayan was 12 years and six months.
“Capital punishment can never be imposed on a juvenile,” the Supreme Court said while granting Narayan parole for a week in May to perform the last rites of his father. He is back in Yerwada jail now but his fresh battle before the Supreme Court has just begun.