In 1994, Narayan Chetanram Chaudhary was arrested with two others for the murder of 7 people. Within 4 years, a trial court in Pune convicted and sentenced all 3 of them to capital punishment. Narayan’s sentence was then confirmed by the Bombay High Court in 1999, and then the Supreme Court of India also upheld the death sentence. Narayan’s review petition to the Supreme Court’s judgement also was denied and the sentence was upheld. What is interesting is that after spending 25 years on death row and having his case heard at least a minimum of 4 times in the various courts of the country, Narayan is released in 2023. What was the reason for this release?
One thing to keep in mind: Indian law states that minors (those who are less than 18 years of age) can not be tried as adults and they can not be awarded the death sentence. The system is reformative and restorative rather than retributive. The goal is not to merely punish but to help the person change and live a meaningful life to the benefit of others.
Narayan Chetanram Chaudhary was around 12 and a half or 13 years old when he went into prison. But, being illiterate, he was neither aware of his age nor was he aware that he was a minor and should not be given the death sentence. It took 20 years for the Supreme Court to finally release him. Chaudhary decided to educate himself and find out about his age. And then Project 39A, an NGO that works with convicts on death row come along to help him with his case.
After decades in prison, he does not recollect life before prison. He himself has no idea whether he killed anyone. In any case, the question is not whether he was guilty. The bigger question is how we respond when we hear stories of injustice.
One of the responses to injustice can be to mourn. As Christians, we can grieve the devastation that sin has caused in the world. And we can come alongside victims of injustice and mourn along with them.
As Christians, we recognize that our ultimate hope is not in the justice systems of the world. We live in the greater hope that our righteous and just King will soon return and bring about the ultimate reforms of our fallen systems — the creation of a new heaven and a new earth.
Because we know that we have a sure hope, we do not fall into despair. Hope strengthens us to work as subjects of our righteous King in developing better justice systems, seeking to reform the criminals among us, and offering hope to criminals, victims, and every other sinner in our midst. Some of us might be called to vocations of service within the system: as lawmakers, as law-interpreter (judges), as defenders of the weak (lawyers), or as law enforcers (bureaucrats or police officers). Moreover, NGOs such as Project 39A are spaces where Christians can act out their faith.
Not every disciple of Jesus is called to such vocations. But all of us can pray. We are called to love our neighbour as ourselves (Mark 12:13). What person would not pray for the one they love? But for us to pray for such people, we need to know them. This can only happen as we get involved in the lives of our neighbours… as we hear their stories, their aspirations and their struggles. This is also why I write these articles. To encourage the church in India to pray for our neighbours.
Being Indian and Christian
Being Indian and Christian is my weekly newsletter in which I try to understand the world (popular culture or news and events from India or around the world) from a Christian worldview. If that’s something you’re interested in, I’d be honoured if you signed up!