Veteran journalist Shevlin Sebastian sheds light on a gripping tale in his latest book, titled ‘The Stolen Necklace.’ The book delves into the harrowing real-life account of VK Thajudheen, who endured an unjust imprisonment lasting 54 days in 2018. Falsely accused of a necklace theft, Thajudheen’s identity was mistaken for that of the culprit depicted in a CCTV image. The consequences were devastating, as he suffered the loss of everything he held dear. Yet, even now, he perseveres in his quest for justice.
In a recent interview with Storizen, Shevlin tells us about the inspiration behind the book and his writing journey.
What inspired you to write ‘The Stolen Necklace’ and delve into the real-life story of V.K. Thajudheen?
A friend of my agent, Anish Chandy, founder of the Labyrinth Literary Agency, forwarded a link. It was about a middle-class Doha-based entrepreneur who had come to Kerala to attend the wedding of his daughter. The police arrested him for stealing a gold necklace. The CCTV image looked like him. I found this story intriguing. And so, with the encouragement of Anish, I wrote a book about what had happened.
Can you share some challenges faced by Thajudheen during his 54-day imprisonment, as depicted in the book?
Thajudheen had never seen the inside of a prison. So, you can imagine his shock that he entered one for the first time as an alleged offender. The different types of people he met there: the career criminals, people accused under the Protection of Children from the Sexual Offences Act, violence-prone political workers, and fraudsters. These were people he had never met before. It was tough to interact with them.
The food was bland and doing ablutions in the public, each toilet marked by low walls, was hard for Thajudheen. What was most difficult for Thajudheen was handling the hopelessness. He could feel his life being brought to a halt and the aching pain of not enjoying freedom anymore.
How did the experience of following this case from day one impact you as a seasoned journalist and co-author?
Like Thajudheen, I am a middle-class person. The more he kept narrating the story, the more I realized that this was something that could have happened to me, too. So it was a nerve-wracking experience. To hear the impact on the family, to see how the police behaved with him and his family, all this was disturbing.
In your opinion, what does this story reveal about the flaws within the Indian law enforcement system?
It seems to me the police have a lackadaisical attitude. For them to arrest somebody is like having a cup of tea. Many have lost empathy for the victims. They don’t realize the huge emotional and psychological impact an arrest can have on a person and his family. If they are found wrong about the arrest later on, no authority is going to impose any punishment on them. So, there is nothing to worry about.
Could you discuss the long-lasting consequences faced by individuals wrongfully accused and convicted, as explored in the book?
The first problem is financial. For years, they have had no income. How to pick up the pieces. What to do now? Who will offer jobs to people who have been away from the workplace for so long? Do they have the skills to compete?
The person has to recover from the psychological trauma. His family also has to heal. Thajudheen’s family has also suffered from trauma. How long does it take to heal? Unfortunately, it might take years. So, this is a very tragic situation. I hope the police officers who read this book will understand the impact of their actions. They should ask themselves one question: what if this happened to my family?
Did you encounter other instances of police wrongfully accusing innocent people while researching for this book? Could you provide some insights into those cases?
There are many cases. I devoted one entire chapter to this. But what came as a shock to me was that even in the US, the leading democracy in the world, there were so many false cases. However, the good news is that in many states in the US, they provide financial compensation for wrongful incarceration. We should implement this in India so that victims can have a decent amount of money to start life afresh again.
What do you hope readers will take away from ‘The Stolen Necklace’ regarding the pursuit of justice and the flaws within the legal system?
It’s very tough. Because of the slow-moving cases, it will take years before the courts administer justice. But you need to adopt a positive attitude, come what may so that you can win in the end. Don’t be your own enemy. Accept the situation and say to yourself, ‘No matter what happens, I will get justice and clear my name.’ This is easy to say, but it is tremendously hard to practice.
How did the unjust tactics and bruised egos of the Chakkarakkal police impact the protagonist’s life and his perception of trust?
Thajudheen is still trying to recover from the emotional damage. Even now, there are days when he feels depressed. There are many financial pressures. He has a family he has to look after. His trust in law enforcement has diminished. There is no doubt after that.
What role does the theme of resilience play in the protagonist’s journey throughout the book?
Thajudheen’s family supported him throughout. What gave a major fillip to Thajudheen was that the media took up the case. Once the matter reached the spotlight, Thajudheen knew that the possibility of getting justice had increased. So, all this contributed to the sense of resilience that he showed.
Can you discuss the significance of shedding light on wrongful convictions and the need for reform within the legal system, as portrayed in ‘The Stolen Necklace?’
Hopefully, books like this will spur civil society and the media to take up the cudgels on behalf of the victims. The government should implement strictures for officers who file false cases. That will ensure they will be more careful in the future.
The Interview first appeared in Storizen Magazine June 2023 Issue.