Ambalapuzha/Nedumbassery: It was an emotional reunion with their families for Shahjahan and Santhosh Kumar, who were stuck in an Oman jail for 20 years after being punished for a crime they never committed.
Santhosh, 45, of Vellooparambil, Kakkazham, Ambalappuzha in Alappuzha district, and Shajahan, 50, of Shameena Manzil, Thankakkallu, Madavoor in Thiruvananthapuram district, were released last week and sent home in accordance with an amnesty decree issued by the ruler of the Sultanate of Oman.
The two, and another Keralite, Madhavan, a native of Kollam, were sentenced to 25 years of imprisonment after being named as accomplices in a bank robbery attempt by four Pakistani nationals who lived next to their apartment. They, along with the Pakistanis, were framed with murder charges after two security personnel got killed during the attempt. Subsequently, an Omani court awarded death sentence to the Pakistani nationals.
Santhosh was a flour mill employee while Shajahan was a staff of a hardware shop in the same building. The Pakistanis were the employees of another shop in the locality. The Keralites were connected to the case after it was found that the concrete cutter used by the Pakistani nationals to murder the security officers was originally owned by them. In fact, the accused borrowed the cutter on the pretext of breaking open their room's lock claiming that they had lost the key.
Around two-and-a-half years ago, Madhavan had been released on health grounds. Santhosh and Shajahan are obliged to social activist Thayyil Habeeb, hailing from Punnapra in Alappuzha, who worked relentlessly to get them back to India.
Santhosh’s mother, who was under severe trauma after learning about her son’s plight, suffered a stroke, resulting in paralysis. She died in 2011 after being bed-ridden for eleven years. His brother Sasi, who was also working in Oman, returned home in distress and died after a few years.
Santhosh was unmarried when he went to the jail at the age of 24. Shajahan has four daughters and all of them were married off over the past ten years.
Though the two had been released on January 15, it took another week to complete visa processing and other formalities.
Santhosh, who arrived in Kochi via Mumbai from Muscat on Friday afternoon, was received at the airport by elder brother Maheshan and some other relatives. He was accorded a warm reception by local people and his extended family members when he reached his ancestral home at Ambalapuzha around 5 pm. They welcomed him with sweets and embraces. Habeen Thayyil and his family were also present on the occasion.
“I’m so happy to have returned home. At the same time, I’m sad that my mother is not here to witness this moment,” Santhosh said.
According to Santhosh and Shajahan, there are many Keralites languishing in Oman jails after being convicted in offenses of different nature. “Authorities have to make serious efforts to enable their freedom. The two-decade-long jail life has taken its toll on our health. We have to rebuild our life from scratch and we hope the government would help us.”