S Nambinarayanan has never met Kashmiri model Tariq Ahmad Dar — but in a way, they know each other well. The top space scientist is still seeking justice 13 years after police and intelligence officials ruined his career by calling him a spy and traitor.
Hundreds of miles to the south of the New Delhi prison that Dar left on Thursday after police dropped charges of terrorist links, Nambinarayan and many others relived their similar pain, of being framed under espionage and terrorism-related laws. They were acquitted, but lost much else.
"It has become very easy for the state to call people spies and terrorists", said Kashmiri journalist Iftikhar Gilani, who was jailed on espionage charges for more than seven months, but acquitted.
The false cases have cost people their careers, life's savings, reputations and health. Friends abandoned them. The media indicted them. But even after being proved innocent, officials who brought the false cases are rarely known to have been punished.
"My entire life is ruined. But who cares for this?" Nambinarayanan, who made a landmark contribution to India's space research programme, told the Hindustan Times from his Thiruvananthapuram home. He was acquitted, but is still wrapped up in litigation.
In his worst days, rickshaw-pullers would not even take him to a temple.
Nambinarayanan was granted an interim compensation of Rs 10 lakh by the National Human Rights Commission in 2001. But the Kerala government is blocking the payment, and has gone to court saying the police acted without malice. He has separately sought damages of Rs 1 crore, a case that is making tortuous progress.
Instead, the state government sued him for criminal defamation for allegedly maligning the reputation of the police, by saying in a newspaper interview that he had "claimed damages". When a court threw out the case after four years and numerous hearings, the state has gone in appeal.
"It is an unequal fight. But I have nothing more to lose than what I already have", he said. "I took heavy loans to fight the cases, and the interest is piling up".
Many others have been similarly accused, but "almost nobody files complaints and nobody seeks damages", said lawyer VK Ohri, who successfully defended journalist Gilani.
"Tariq Dar was lucky to get out of jail in three months. There are so many others I met in prison who are languishing endlessly on similar charges", said Gilani. "They never get written about".
Others have suffered in the past. Navy captain B.K.Subbarao, accused of leaking nuclear secrets and arrested in Mumbai, spent five years in prison during which his son had to give up on his chance to study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the family ran out of money, and Subbarao finally studied law books in prison to fight his own case. He got acquitted.