WHEN you have lived to be 105, there is little you haven’t seen. But released from Gorakhpur District Jail 10 days ago after serving a decade inside, Chauthi Yadav hopes to see what’s written in the scriptures come true.
With his wife Sunra, who is a couple of years younger, sitting quietly next to him at their home in Malaon village, 30 km from Gorakhpur city, Chauthi says, “Ved padh-padh jag mua, pandit bhaya na koy (The whole world reads the scriptures, yet none is the wiser). I have learnt a lot about the Gita but don’t have faith in it. How can I when I have not seen it happen? Jab bhagwan kehta hai ki jo bhi hota hai main karta hoon, to itni thagi-beimaani kyon hai (If God says that all that is happening is His doing, why is there so much cheating, looting)?”
Chauthi was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1982 by a trial court, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2006 when he was 94, for a murder that took place in 1979. He believes he was wrongly implicated by two witnesses.
He was released on April 13, three months after Governor Ram Naik ordered his release, noting that at age 105, his case was special. Chauthi’s nephew Gautam had petitioned the Governor and others in 2015 seeking Chauthi’s release due to old age.
Nine prisoners such as Chauthi whose petitions for reprieve were under consideration had been moved to Gorakhpur District Jail from different prisons. Jail Superintendent S K Sharma said Chauthi, who came from Varanasi Central Jail in 2016, was the eldest. Earlier, at Varanasi Central Jail, the authorities had asked him to lead the flag-hoisting ceremony on Independence Day after he turned 100.
Chauthi says the eight others with him are still behind bars. “There are many prisoners who cannot even walk on their own. They have to be taken to toilet by someone else. I hope the government releases them,” he says.
Chauthi’s son Jeet Bandhan says, “We had given up hope he would come back. He had fallen ill twice in jail. We feared he would not be able to survive.”
Chauthi was held for the murder of a Shyam Narayan Tiwari, in Pachahua village, about 35 km from Malaon. Chauthi says witnesses Dadhiban and Sudama named him because he had fought with them after their buffaloes damaged his crop.
Tiwari’s son Arun says the murder “changed the family’s life”. Arun had been a teenager in 1979. “Two persons had come to buy cows to our house. It was around 9.30 in the night when they heard screams. It was raining. My father was lying in a pool of blood, with his body cut at several places. My life changed after that. I couldn’t continue my studies after Class 10,” says Arun, now 52.
Arun says Ramakant Yadav, the main accused, a resident of Pachahua village, conspired with others to kill his father because they envied his wealth. “Chauthi Yadav was not someone we named. He was identified by witnesses,” says Arun.
While Ramakant and another accused are still in jail, Arun fears they too may be released citing Chauthi’s case. He may challenge Chauthi’s release, he adds. “My life was ruined by that incident. We had to leave the village. Several fake cases were lodged against me. Chauthi Yadav has not spent even 14 years in jail.”
His family now lives in Gorakhpur and rarely visits Pachahua. Arun tried running a cinema hall in Uruwa Bazar town near the village, but the business didn’t succeed.
Chauthi claims jail didn’t bother him too much. “When Kabirdas was about to die, he left Varanasi, which is a sacred place to die, and came to Maghar, which was known as unholy. What difference does it make where I die, jail or home? Every place belongs to God.”
Having never gone to school, Chauthi learnt to read a bit on his own, and made a living cultivating a small piece of land and using his ox cart, which is still around, to transport load for others.
His vision is blurred now, he can’t hear clearly and he has hernia. In freedom, the thought of becoming a burden to the family keeps him awake. “Ab to chalte-phirte maalik hamari sun le bas yahi chahte hain. Kisi ko aur bhar na pade humara. Gharwale bhi oob jayenge (Now all I want is that God listens to my prayers. Nobody should bear my burden for a long time. Family members will also get tired of me)…” he says, sitting in a thatch-roof verandah outside the family’s two-room house.
A part of the house is under dispute in court, another thought that worries him.
Wife Sunra, who last saw Chauthi five years ago, comes to sit by him every time there is a visitor but hardly speaks. He says he understands. “Her condition is like mine. She keeps coughing all the time. It’s old age. We can’t do anything for each other.”
In the time he was away, the family has grown, with many more grandchildren. That has affected one thing he was looking forward to on return. Chauthi says in jail he missed cow milk. The family has one cow. “But now the family is bigger. I get only a little milk if it is left as the children need it.”