Niggel Akkara: A real life hero and a maverick

Sohail Choudhury

To most of our readers, Niggel Akkara might be an alien character – an unknown name. But he definitely deserves to be known in the world – much beyond the boundary of India. Niggel is an actor and director. He also is a social activist and above all – a former high-profile prisoner. According to media reports back in 2014, realizing that people released from jail had trouble finding employment, Nigel Akkara, himself a former prisoner, has started a company to help them set up businesses. Nigel has the smile, which can possibly conquer the world. But, behind the smile, he hides the years of despair that Nigel spent in prison after being charged with 17 crimes ranging from kidnapping and extortion to murder. Arrested in December 200, he spent nine years in the Presidency Correctional Home at Alipore before being acquitted of all the charges by the Kolkata High Court for lack of evidence in 2009. Describing his past, this Kolkata-born Christian said in fluent English, “I have no one to blame. I cannot and will not hide my past.”

Of course, why in the world precious people like Niggel Akkara should feel ashamed of telling the world – he spent nine years in prison facing numerous charges. Here I find a great similarity between Niggel Akkara and our editor Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, who also have spent – total nine years in prison and has served rigorous imprisonment for the “crimes” of confronting radical Islam; denouncing anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial; and promoting interfaith harmony. Our editor too never hesitates in telling everyone about his days in the prison. Like Niggel Akkara, following his release on July 29, 2018, our editor also had dedicated himself in continuing his mission of peace – for the sake of ensuring a better world for our next generation. He continues publishing newspapers including Blitz, without fear or favour. There is another similarity between Niggel Akkara and our editor. Both are having their passion in the cultural arena. Our editor is a lyricist, tuner and a movie-maker.

Our editor heard about Niggel Akkara from his “loving younger brother” from Kolkata – Rino Datt Sujit – a talented and promising film director. Possibly it was yesterday and immediately he has assigned me in writing the piece about Niggel Akkara.

Recently, Akkara took 15 sex workers from Kolkata’s Sonagachhi brothels and turned them into theatre performers. This is another marvelous initiative of him in doing something for those, who actually deserve it badly.

Niggel was born in a middle-income Christian family in Kolkata [in India] in 1978. At the age of 15, he found himself in the world of crime. It happened at a barber’s shop, where he regularly went for a shave. That day he got into a fight, and at the end of the incident, a person lay dead. Then while still in school, he got sucked deeper and deeper into the world of crime. He quickly became a part of four different gangs involved in kidnapping, extortion and contract killing. At one point, he was even commanding an army of 30-40 delinquents.

Being released from prison, a former student of St Xavier’s, Niggel had applied to as many as seven organizations for a job. But every time he revealed details of his past, he was immediately rejected by them. His plight made him wonder about the fate of others who had been similarly released from prison. It was then that he decided to start his own business aimed at rehabilitating newly freed prisoners. Thus was born Kolkata Facilities Management in July 2010.

Since then, Kolkata Facilities Management has provided employment to many ex-prisoners while Niggel Akkara has helped many of them in setting up their own businesses. Even he has provided the initial funding to few of them.

Niggel knows – societies are sensitive towards ex-prisoners. But he is the person, who really has greatly contributed in changing things in favour of the ex-prisoners.

Career as an actor:

Knowing about the odds an ex-prisoner faces in the society, Niggel Akkara’s mother suggested him making a fresh start of life in another state in India. But, Niggel knew, he has done nothing wrong in Kolkata and he would rectify himself in the city ultimately. To him, going to another state or city would be like being an escapist and he never wanted to tun away from rectification.

His portrayal of the dacoit-sage Valmiki in the play Valmiki Pratibha had won him a lot of applause. That was the kick-starting of his journey as an actor. Most of the people, who watched the play knew the past of Niggel Akkara. The big break came when he got the chance to play the lead role opposite popular cine-star Rituparna Sengupta in a Bangla movie named Muktodhara. Eventually this film about prison reformation became a blockbuster in 2012. The biggest thing he got from acting in the movie was acceptance and recognition as a new person and of course the love from his fans.

In 2017, there was a sequel of Muktodhara, which Niggel Akkara declined to perform, because, in the first movie, prisoners were not correctly portrayed and even had scenes, which actually had hurt the sentiment and dignity of the prisoners.

See an interview of Niggel Akkara:

 

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