Twenty seven-year-old Mary from Manipur has spent seven months in a Mumbai jail for a crime she avers she didn’t commit; neither did the police find any evidence against her. Now out on bail, she is still struggling to get herself formally discharged in the case.
Mary came to Mumbai in 2011 and became a member of the Christ Embassy Church at Juhu. Her nightmare began in August 2012, when the Khar police asked her about the whereabouts of Fortune Positive alias Dennis Steve, a Nigerian who was accused of cheating an Indian woman of almost Rs. 5 lakh in an Internet scam.
According to the complainant, a woman used to make calls on behalf of Fortune, giving details of financial transactions. The police concluded that it was Mary without even conducting a voice test. “I knew Fortune through a common friend as he often visited the church. As secretary of the choir, I had the numbers of many people whom we used to invite for special programmes. I had his number too,” Mary told The Hindu.
Not knowing Hindi or Marathi proved her major disadvantage. “The police said they wanted my help in arresting Fortune and took my signature on a number of papers,” she said. She soon found herself inside the Byculla women’s prison with no idea why she was arrested. Neither the police nor the lawyer they provided for her informed her that she was an accused.
It was only two weeks later did Mary come to know of the charges against her through Angela Sontakke, an alleged Maoist, lodged in the same prison. “I was stunned to know I was accused of financial cheating.”
By then Mary’s sisters, who were also in the city, were thrown out of their flat after the landlord had come to know about the police case. Mary had been sharing the flat with her cousin and a younger sister. First among six siblings, Mary first moved to Chennai after graduation from Manipur, and then she came to Mumbai in search of work.
“Inside jail, I felt very scared and secluded as Indian prisoners thought I was a foreigner,” she said. She wondered whether she had been subjected to this because she was from Manipur. “People here do not know that we are Indians too. They always look at us with suspicion.” However, the police say they have a strong case. Investigating officer Ankush Katkar told The Hindu that Mary used to help the main accused by calling the victims. “She spoke to the complainant, posing herself as an officer from the Reserve Bank of India.”
Mr. Katkar said the police arrested her only after gathering enough evidence. “We have filed a charge sheet and are sure that no mistake has been made in the investigation. We will present the case effectively in court.”
Mary was granted bail two months after her arrest in October 2012, but she could not afford the bail bond of Rs. 1 lakh. So she had to stay in jail till March 2013. She had spent Rs. 85,000 on her lawyer but he disappeared. Finally, she got a new lawyer through her friend from the Church. “The judge agreed that the bail amount was too high and lowered it after our request,” said advocate Wesley Menezes.
Mary’s discharge application will be heard on October 10. She wants to start her life afresh, without any court case or police inquiry. A new job has given her that opportunity. “I want to forget those months of my life. I want to start a new life,” she said.
(The woman’s name has been changed to protect her identity)