‘I was robbed of dignity’

2014-03-08 00:00

THE nurse who was detained in India after a single bullet was found in her luggage has described her ordeal as her “deepest, darkest fear come true”.

“This was the end of my life. I prayed every minute that I would return home to my family. It was an ordeal I would never wish on my worst enemy,” said an emotional Isra Devi Lutchman.

Lutchman, a cardiac unit nurse at St Anne’s hospital in Pietermaritzburg, arrived home to South Africa this week after an Indian magistrate granted her permission to return on condition she paid R70 000 as security that she would return to stand trial. It is not clear yet when she will stand trial.

Terrified and traumatised, Lutchman spent four days in an Indian prison cell with 50 other women, where she cowered in fear for her life.

With a matted blanket for a mattress and only stale bread for a meal, Lutchman said all she could do to keep her sanity was pray.

“I just prayed and chanted … and I think it was God-sent that I had two young Indian women in the cell with me who kept me company and protected me.

“They shielded me from the rough women in prison there, gave me a scarf to use to sit on the floor, and prayed with me.

“The other women would punch and kick each other, pull each other’s hair and fight all the time. We had to steer clear because they would go around picking fights as well,” a tearful Lutchman said yesterday at her Pietermaritzburg home.

Lutchman said she still has nightmares about the insects that were crawling around in the cell.

“It was horrendous. Everyone did everything, from going to the toilet to eating food in the cell. If we thought South African prisons were bad, the Indian prison will make it feel like a five-star hotel.

“I didn’t sleep in all the time that I was there for fear of someone harming me and for fear of the bugs.

“There were cockroaches, the size of my palm, running around in their hundreds; tiny bugs continuously crawling all over. I still feel them in my hair and on my body. It was the darkest moment of my life. I was in a deep depression and didn’t want to see anyone or be with anyone,” said Lutchman.

When she was eventually released on bail, the first thing Lutchman did was return to a hotel room and shower.

“I spent three hours in the shower, scrubbing and scrubbing … and still I felt the dirt on me.”

Having touched down in South Africa this week, almost a month after she left for a pilgrimage to India, Lutchman gave thanks to her family, friends, and both South African and Indian authorities who rallied to help her.

This was her fourth trip to the sub-continent and she was accompanied by her sister Roshni and brother-in-law Sanjay Badassy.

Lutchman said she thought water had spilt in her bag when her name was announced at the airport while waiting for an inter-connecting flight from New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International airport to Chandigarh, Punjab.

“I did not, for one minute, think that I was going to be arrested,” said Lutchman.

There she was told that a bullet had been found lodged in her bag in the compartment where the handle is stored.

“I couldn’t believe it. I thought it was a mistake. Everything started blurring around me,” said Lutchman.

She immediately maintained her innocence, saying it was impossible for the bullet to be in her bag as she had passed through security at South African and Dubai airports.

“The police did not want to hear anything. The reality of it all hit me when they were leading me away from the airport in police custody. I felt faint and my blood pressure had shot up. I had to be taken to a government hospital,” said Lutchman.

“Being a nurse, I could not believe what I was seeing at that hospital. We have a lot to be thankful for in South Africa,” she said.

In hindsight, she says, she should have stayed at the hospital which she asked to be removed from, because jail conditions were much worse.

Lutchman said she found it strange that while she was detained at the airport and at the police holding cells there were many attorneys and advocates touting to represent her. “What was an attorney doing at an airport waiting to represent people?”

Lutchman said she never wants to return to India again.

“I have no pride left. I was robbed of my dignity and now I have to live with this stigma attached to me for something that was not my fault. I have been a prim and proper person all my life and this is going to be difficult to get over,” said Lutchman.

ANOTHER South African, Imran Hoosen, an engineering graduate from Nottingham Road in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, was also detained in India on a similar charge.

Hoosen (22), who was also arrested at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport in December, is still in India. He was released on bail recently and is still awaiting a court date for an application to return to South Africa.

His family have visited him and have also tried to secure his return, to no avail.

Hoosen’s trip to India was a reward for his having completed his engineering degree. He had a choice of jobs lined up for him upon his return in January. His family declined to speak to the media, saying they were under instruction from their Indian attorneys.

The Department of International Relations was not available for comment at the time of going to press.

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