Social group bails out petty criminals

Written By Unknown on Minggu, 29 Juni 2014 | 22.23

When Waheeda Mastan Shaikh came out of Kalyan jail last month, the first thing she asked her brother was about her "benefactor". "I wanted to thank the organization which paid my bail amount (Rs 15,000) and got me released. My husband abandoned me more than a year ago and my brother had spent all his money in fighting the case. He didn't have the money to pay for the bail amount," says Shaikh who spent nine months in jail for allegedly trying to sell her 14-year-old daughter. "A neighbour falsely implicated me in the case," adds Shaikh.

Shaikh is among 47 former prisoners in the last two months who must thank Al-Bir Foundation, a city-based group which helps poor and non-habitual criminals come out on bail. It either pays the bail amount or produces guarantors or both.

Armed with the list of prisoners and permission from prison authorities, Al-Bir's volunteers and advocates hold counseling sessions in different jails. So far they have visited Arthur Road, Byculla, Taloja and Kalyan jails and, after verifying with their families, have got 47 inmates out on bail. "There are organizations which fight for the terror accused imprisoned in different jails. But practically nobody thinks of the many languishing in jails for petty charges like chain snatching and other minor thefts. Many are first time offenders and dirt poor whose families cannot afford even Rs 15000. We help such inmates," says Abid Ahmed, Al-Bir Foundation's general secretary.

The Foundation has a panel of seven advocates, many of whom work voluntarily. "In the absence of strong legal aid by the state, services of groups like Al-Bir Foundation become significant," says Dr Vijay Raghavan, head of Centre for Criminology and Justice at Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS). There are organizations like Prayaas, says Raghavan, which help rehabilitate poor prisoners after their release from jails, but it is difficult to find one which pays the cash amount for bails.

Ataullah Firfire, a former bank employee, spent four months in Arthur Road jail for alleged fraud before he got bail last month. "I didn't attend a couple of hearings as I was misguided by some people. And then the warrant was issued. I was arrested. Al-Bir helped me to get a guarantor as my wife had difficulty in finding one," says Firfire. Like other former inmates whom the Foundation helped, Firfire says this initiative is urgently needed. Why has the group confined its help to jails in Mumbai and Kalyan? "We don't have the resources to spread our services to all the jails in Maharashtra. We wanted to experiment and now that we have succeeded we will try to reach out to more inmates," says Ahmed.

Interestingly, sometimes the family members of the inmates tell the lawyers and volunteers not to get the prisoners out. "Some families of habitual offenders are so distressed that they plead us not to get their imprisoned relatives out. We drop such inmates from the list of those who deserve help," says Fakhruddin, one of the advocates on the Foundation's panel.

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