At exactly 8.45 am on Thursday, prisoner number C-16656 of Pune’s Yerawada Central Jail walked out, carrying a bag and some files, apparently containing his prison records. Clad in a blue shirt and jeans, he stopped after a few steps, kept his bag, touched the ground as a mark of respect, and then saluted the national flag hoisted on the jail’s main building.
Having walked into the jail in May 2013, Bollywood actor Sanjay Dutt walked out a free man eight months short of his five-year sentence for exemplary behaviour and good work in jail.
An hour before Dutt was released, a few members of an organisation named Karjadar Hakk Sanrakshan Sangh raised slogans against Dutt’s release. They were detained and later released.
Asked about his feelings at the Pune airport, from where he took a chartered flight to Mumbai with wife Manyata, filmmaker-friend Raju Hirani and a few others, Dutt said, “It was not an easy walk to freedom, my friend.”
Arriving in Mumbai, Dutt first went to Siddhivinayak Temple in Prabhadevi, central Mumbai, followed by a visit to his mother Nargis’s grave in Marine Drive, before heading home. Addressing the media at home — building Imperial Heights in Mumbai’s western suburb Bandra — later in the afternoon, Dutt said, “It is the most amazing feeling. For 23 years I have been waiting for this moment, for freedom. I did everything (abide by the law). It’s a feeling that will take a while to sink in.”
Stating that he was missing his father, late actor and Congress leader Sunil Dutt, the most on the day of his “complete freedom”, the 56-year-old actor said, “The court had said I am not a terrorist. That was a big thing. I wish my father was alive… woh bade betab thhe yeh baat sunne ke liye (he was anxious to hear this).”
Dutt had surrendered in May 2013 after Supreme Court upheld his conviction by a Mumbai special court for possession of arms and ammunition, part of a consignment used in the 1993 serial bomb blasts.
Dutt’s prison term was not without controversies. He had stayed out for 118 days on paroles and furloughs in the first year at Yerawada jail, prompting many to question whether the government was granting him favours. Even on Thursday, the Opposition Congress slammed the Maharashtra government for Dutt’s early release. The actor was given “separate justice” because he is a celebrity and not a commoner, Leader of Opposition in Assembly Radhakrishna Vikhe Patil said in Shirdi, according to PTI.
Jail authorities and his lawyers, however, clarified that his remission of 144 days and his parole leave were in accordance with prescribed rules.
Asked if he reflected on these criticisms, Dutt said, “It (preferential treatment) is a misconception. It has nothing to do with me being a celebrity, as I was also not allowed to do many things.” About his time in jail, he said, “Besides the jail authorities I got close to few inmates who were connected with my time as an RJ.”
In prison, Dutt had taken part in making paper bags besides entertaining fellow inmates as a radio jockey for the internal station, ‘Radio YCP’. The work had earned him Rs 440, an amount he holds dear. “I am going to give the money to my wife,” he said.