TWENTY YEARS and multiple trips between a mental facility and prison later, a 50-year old man diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia was sentenced to life imprisonment for murder last week by a sessions court. The court directed for Khurshid Mohammed Gaffar’s sentence to be set off, as he has already spent several years in jail, but prison authorities say that he cannot be released till he finds a place to stay.
“It is found that the accused is in jail since around 20 years. During pendency of the trial, it is found the accused was referred for medical treatment as he was suffering schizophrenia… accused is in jail since 9/09/1999. He is entitled for set off…” the court said.
On the night of September 9, 1999, Gaffar was allegedly seen attacking a man with a stone at Vakola by a rickshaw driver. The driver alerted the police, dropped his passengers and returned to the spot to find the victim bleeding and his face bludgeoned.
The police went on to arrest Gaffar from the spot and later book him for murder. During interrogation, Gaffar allegedly said that the victim, whose identity remains unknown till date, had woken him up and teased him. Enraged, he added, he attacked the victim with a stone.
The rickshaw driver, one among six prosecution witnesses, during his deposition in 2012 told the court that he had thought that Gaffar did not seem mentally fit, but without any proper legal representation, the issue of his mental ill health at the time of the incident was not raised to grant him pardon under Section 84 (act of a person of unsound mind) of the IPC.
While Gaffar was referred to medical intervention multiple times since 2005, it was only when the court was recording his statement under Section 313 of the Criminal Procedure Code, which requires an accused to respond to the allegations against him, did the court for the first time, consider his mental state.
Finding he was not able to respond to questions coherently, the court directed for medical authorities to examine him. In 2013, Gaffar was found mentally unfit and diagnosed with chronic schizophrenia and sent to Thane Mental Hospital. The trial against him resumed again in February this year, when he was declared “fit for discharge”. The court last week found him guilty of the murder and sentenced him to life imprisonment.
“The accused neither at the time of his statement under 313 CrPC nor at the time of cross-examining the witness has come up with the contention that he was of unsound mind and that he was incapable of knowing the nature of the act. Although, during the trial the accused was referred for treatment of schizophernia. However, it does not go to establish that the mental condition of the accused was such that at the time of the incident in question, he was incapable of knowing the nature of the act..,” the court said.
It held that it could not give the benefit under Section 84, which requires proving that at the time of the incident, the accused was of an unsound mind.
On the day of sentencing, Gaffar, represented by a lawyer through the state’s legal aid panel, said he had no family. The policemen accompanying him claimed he was still unable to coherently respond.
Dr Sanjay Bodade, Medical Superintendent of Thane Mental Hospital, said Gaffar was first admitted in 2005. “He kept coming here for short stays lasting one or two months until 2011. He has shown quite a lot of improvement as a result of treatment we have given him here,” he added.
Doctors at the hospital noted that Gaffar, who used to work as a tailor, would talk incoherently and always appeared to be sleepy, which they attributed to low levels of sodium in his body.
He had also sought treatment at J J Hospital. However, his stays in hospital were always brief. He had last stayed at Thane Mental Hospital between June 9 and 19, where his home was a building built specially to house patients sent over from jail. The building has the capacity to accommodate 50 patients in cells resembling those in jails, said Dr Bodade.
“His episodes of aggression had greatly reduced since the last time he was here. It was clear that he was ready to be released back into society. We have never had any complaints from him,” he added. Dr Bodade attributed the improvement to two good meals in the hospital and space for patients to move around.
Harshad Ahirrao, Superintendent, Arthur Road Jail, concurred. “Over time, Gaffar had become self-reliant. He would wash his own clothes and do whatever activities we gave him without any trouble,” he said.
Gaffar will not become a free man any time soon. The state home department has guidelines mandating the additional time convicts of heinous crimes have to spend behind bars after their jail term is set-off.
Ahirrao said Gaffar’s release will take at least another six months. “We cannot release him until we find him a proper place to stay,” he added.