All expenses-paid trips across the border to Pakistan, unlimited supply of free rum and the salary of a then princely sum of Rs 1,000. Life was good and full of excitement.
Balwinder Singh was a spy, in the employ of the Army’s military intelligence. Singh says, “I was introduced to MI by Kashmir Singh (recently released from a Pakistani jail).”
Singh met an MI major in Jalandhar and he was on. He was soon packed off to a safehouse for training, which, by all accounts, was nothing as comprehensive and rigorous as the Research and Analysis Wing gave its spies.
“I was given training in how to offer namaaz and some basic tips about Pakistani culture,” Singh says. And, of course, a new identity: Pervez Yusuf. That completed his makeover as a spy.
Singh remembers vividly the first time he crossed into Pakistan. It was in the summer of 1972. He was wearing a kurta and churidar – as if that’s the national dress across the border (it should have been a pathani suit instead).
The former spy refused to divulge operational details. But not out of fear of state reprisal. “It would amount to treachery with the nation,” Singh said simply, without a hint of hesitation.
He has serious complaints about the way his employers treated him. He lives in a one-room house with his wife and two children. The village panchayat recently built a bathroom in his house.
Singh doesn’t make very much now as a watchman – perhaps a little more than what he earned as a spy almost three decades ago.
“Had I been aware of the agony and suffering in store for a spy, and that too without any financial or social support, I would never have joined the ranks,” he says.
He did then. That’s something he cannot change. And for a while life was indeed good. He was promised a monthly salary of Rs 1,000 and all the service benefits in case of arrest or casualty.
“The MI officials also used to bear all our boarding and lodging expenses during our stay in Amritsar and mission visits to Pakistan. They also used to supply us plenty of rum without charging any money.”
Singh would be sent to Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar – in every instance the launch was from Amritsar. He went in; spent as many days as needed and slipped back into the country after completing his mission.
Then he got unlucky. He was arrested.
“For two years, I was kept in illegal custody,” Singh says. And he was beaten mercilessly. “They broke every bone in my body.” He was eventually taken to court and tried, getting 10 years in jail.
“We suffered additional torture for demanding the ration to cook our meals as we couldn’t eat beef that was served to all prisoners,” Singh says, adding, “they also tried to turn us against India and spy for them.”
Of course, he didn’t agree. “I was not going to spy on India for them. No way.”
Singh got in touch with his parents after four years in jail and was shocked to know that military intelligence was not paying them anything. He won’t betray his country, but MI didn’t think anything of betraying his trust.
Things didn’t change at all even after his release in 1986. Soon he married. Singh says he pleaded with military intelligence for some compensation but met with no success at all. He was 40 then.
Now Singh is 61 and works as a driver-cum-watchman at a private school. His one-room house has no windows, doors or a boundary wall.
An intelligence official told HT: “There is gross misuse of secret funds given to MI officials for spying operations. They pocket most of it and give little to those who actually risk their lives spying for them.”
BJP MP Navjot Singh Sidhu says he plans to raise in Parliament the issue of people who are hired to spy and are then dumped if they are arrested. “There should be a sustainable policy on this,” he said.