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For want of a train ticket, Ramchandra spent 28 years in jail

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NO one had ever heard of Ramchandra Kashiram, a forgotten ''undertrial,'' who languished in Bihar's notorious prisons for 28 years. He was poor and illiterate, living on the margin of life. His is the story of an anonymous Indian.

He remembers that he crossed over to India from his native Nepal as a teen-ager seeking employment and, if he was fortunate, a wife and home. He also remembers that on March 5, 1953, while traveling ticketless on the Siliguri train, he was arrested after a scuffle with railway officials.

(For hundreds of thousands, traveling ticketless atop a train is a favorite and abiding Indian pastime.)

Mr. Kashiram was taken to Bihar's Kishanganj jail. According to lawyers, he should have been charged under Article 307 of the Indian penal code, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years in jail.

What happened after that remains a mystery, a mystery of 28 years.

No records were ever found of where Mr. Kashiramwas arrested, why, or how. He was simply transferred from prison to prison, always awaiting trial.

On Oct. 31, 1981, a young Kishanganj advocate, Ranjan Kumar Sanyal, who was in court arguing another case, saw Kashiram in a corner outside the registrar's office. He could barely stand. Mr. Sanyal made inquiries. No one knew anything about the forgotten man.

Sanyal persisted. A member of the small Bihar chapter of the Indian Civil Liberties Union, he got the union's president, Radha Raman, involved. On Dec. 2, 1981, Kashiram was released from prison on a personal-security bond of 400 Indian rupees ($40), which Sanyal paid.

But the Bihar court system never acknowledged Kashiram's compensation claims, blithely dismissing the loss of his file as apparent justification for his loss of three decades.

So, in January 1983, the spunky itinerate laborer - as an individual petitioner - appealed directly to the highest court in the land.


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