Long journey: lock-up to prison to asylum; now hope of home
TALE OF TWO BRITISH WOMEN IN INDIA
Two British nationals, both women in their 50s who spent several months in a Bihar jail after their visa expired in the absence of help with extension formalities, will soon be able to return home, thanks to Ranchi Institute of Neuropsychiatry and Allied Sciences (Rinpas) that handled the cases with the sensitivity they demand.
Petuna Griffiths (50), a resident of Cheshire in northwest England, and Terry Butler (55) of Jamyang Buddhist Centre in London were allegedly thrown into Gaya Cental Jail last year and barred from legal help because they could not communicate their predicament to Hindi-speaking prison officials. In July this year, they were sent to Rinpas with “psychological disorders”.
Married and divorced, Petuna says she is a pharmaceutical researcher and mother of two children — Richard (14) and Zoe (11). Her former husband, Lee, is a scientist with PhD in chemistry. Terry, on the other hand, is a devout Buddhist who wants to return to her “monastery life” either in London or in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Dr A.K. Nag, the medical superintendent of Rinpas, told The Telegraph that they had contacted the British Deputy High Commission in Calcutta and the two England citizens would soon return home.
“Terry has been formally released from jail. We received a letter from Gaya prison authorities recently that puts her freedom date as August 11. We are waiting for the deputy high commission to take her away any day now. Petuna will also go home. We have fast-tracked her transit procedure, something the jail should have done for both women long ago,” Nag said.
On how the two women were holding up, the doctor said, “They will do well with medicines and moral support. Eight-nine months in jail for what seems an inadvertent fault on their part can take a toll on mental health. But, Terry has a history of schizophrenia and Petuna has delusional disorder; she doesn’t trust people much. Both can be treated.”
When The Telegraph rang up the British Deputy High Commission on Wednesday morning, an official said the cases had been brought to their notice. “Our consular section has initiated the process to facilitate their return,” he added.
While the ball has finally been set rolling to send the two British nationals home, they have a lot to say about their stay in India, most of it spent in the Bihar prison.
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I came to your country in July 2014 with a visa for three and a half months. I stayed in Dharamsala (Himachal Pradesh) for three months and then applied for visa extension online. As part of the procedure, I was asked to appear for a personal interview in Shimla. There was no one to guide me on where the interview was in Shimla.
So, in October-end, I went to Bodh Gaya.
I toured the pilgrimage for sometime and then, with eight days (for expiry) still in hand, decided to go to Delhi to find help with my visa. At Gaya airport, I sought assistance from officials on flights to Delhi and during conversation, shared my visa problem. They immediately detained me. They detained me on airport premises for eight long days till my visa expired.
Later, I managed to speak to some monks who questioned my detention and also helped me get in touch with the British Deputy High Commission in Calcutta, but help didn’t come at that time. I was taken to a police lock-up, where I was robbed of around Rs 3 lakh and the pearls I was wearing.
Next, judicial procedures began against me. In court, I was neither allowed to explain my case nor did they wish to see my online application documents. Every time, I spoke of my right to defence, I was taken to the lock-up and beaten up. In November last year, I was sent to Gaya jail.
There, at the prison, no one spoke English. I don’t understand Hindi. It was traumatic. Luck smiled on me when I was sent here (Rinpas). Here, doctors speak to me in English. I have a clean and separate room to stay. Officials from the deputy high commission came to meet me.
I am hopeful now.
I came to India two years ago and was staying with monks in Bodh Gaya.
One day, my belongings were stolen. They had my passport and other documents. I went to police to lodge a complaint, but was thrown into jail instead.
I must have been in the Gaya prison for six-seven months. There, I was thrashed several times for protesting against poor hygiene and sanitation. Later, I gave up protesting.
The British embassy should have bailed me out of that horrible place, but I think (Bihar) police didn’t get in touch with the embassy.
Now, I hear I have been freed. Thank God. I hope officials send me back to London or to any monastery in Kathmandu.