As Surjeet Singh walked into India after three decades in jail, and revealed that he was sent behind enemy lines as a spy, there was a visible disquiet among security officials. Behind this disquiet are numerous tales of spies who returned after years of incarceration to a country that refuses to acknowledge their secret lives and risky missions. Patriotism, thrills of a Bond-like life and fat salaries drove these men. Now, they lead lives of regret.
'USED AS FODDER’ BABU RAM, 55
Jammu: A well-built youth working as postman at Budhi in Kathua district, he was sold the dream of working on a “national mission” across the border by intelligence agencies. On top of it, a hefty pay and an assured future were promised.
Though Babu Ram already had a job, the lure proved too much in 1982. “I could not resist; it seemed too good an offer,” he says. But it proved to be a big mistake — one that he regrets till date.
Once he was caught, those who engaged him for the “mission” disowned this postman-turned-spy.
Repatriated after 18 years in 2006, he has been doing menial jobs for survival since. “We were used as fodder for Pakistan. The intelligence sleuths talked of love and patriotism, and it generally works. They gave assurances to feed our families,” he says.
While his “handlers” abandoned him after he was caught in 1988, Babu Ram started as a chela (disciple) to Harbans Lal, a spy-turned-guide, in his later endeavours. Initially, he used to go across the border on short two-three day trips, generally twice a month, and was paid Rs 1,000 per visit. His assignment was to click photographs at sensitive military positions in Pakistan, especially Lahore. He was rounded up while taking pictures of a garrison.
THANKLESS, HELPLESS KRISHAN LAL BALI, 70
Jammu: Krishan Lal Bali looked very much like a spy from a Bollywood flick of the ’70s in his younger days. But now he is a pale shadow of himself — a desolate and vanquished patriot reduced to a thin frame of bones and flesh, awaiting death in a forlorn haveli in Kathua.
With a burly, tall frame of nearly 120 kg, Bali was a vendor when spotted by a national intelligence agency and roped in to carry out numerous secret missions in Pakistan.
But he was abandoned by the intelligence as soon as he was arrested there for spying. Though he returned in 1986 after spending 16 years in Pakistani captivity, there was nobody to own him up. He was left to fend for himself and his family.
“My wife breathed her last in 2008 for want of just Rs 150 for her treatment. And my only son, unable to cope with the stress and poverty at home, committed suicide,” Bali narrates. His own paralytic left side and severely injured back have confined him to his cot in what is locally known as ‘Bhoot Haveli’ (ghost mansion), abandoned by the owners.
Bali is presently surviving on a measly sum of Rs 750 per month that he receives from his community (Majhal). “I always feared death while on assignment in Pakistan. This is worse,” his eyes well up behind his thick spectacles.
‘I feel like A USED NAPKIN’, Kramat Rohi, 56
Gurdaspur: Kramat Rohi runs a dhaba in his native village Khehra Kalan near Fatehgarh Churian in Gurdaspur district. Once upon a time, he was spy fuelled by the desire to serve his country.
“Enticed” by the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), he started working as a spy in 1983 and crossed over to Pakistan five times before he was caught in 1988. He says RAW used to give him Rs 1,500 a month as salary. He was even given Rs 300 a month for 11 months by RAW after he returned to India in 2005. But that was that. “RAW used me as a tool, and threw me away later like a used napkin.”
“In the ’80s, having passed Class 12, I could have got a job easily. But I was taken in by the allurement of the RAW. I felt I was doing a great service to the nation. I did not expect some great reward, but being abandoned is humiliating,” he says.
“Even the courts did not help. I was fined Rs 25,000 by the high court when I sought compensation. I have approached the Supreme Court, but in the past 18 months my plea has not come up for its first hearing,” he adds.
Rebuilding his life, he took a loan and opened the dhaba. Grateful to the then Pakistan President Gen Pervez Musharraf who ordered his release as a gesture of goodwill when the then Punjab CM Capt Amarinder Singh visited Pakistan in 2005, he rues, “I have ended up spoiling my own life, and that of my wife and son, who help me run the dhaba. Given our poverty, you can easily predict our bleak future.”
Kamaljit Singh Kamal
‘Resist the lure’ Gopal Dass, 53
Gurdaspur: Gopal Dass says he worked successfully as a RAW spy for seven years before he was caught in 1984. On April 2011, after over 26 years in jail, he came home to a hero’s welcome. “But the RAW disowned me; and that still hurts.”
A matriculate and resident of Bhaini Mian Khan village of Gurdaspur district, he worked for a salary of Rs 1,500 a month for RAW. On the night he was caught, he had crossed over from Nawanshahr. “I used to report about the location of army installations and air bases. Patriotism drove me, and I never felt I was a criminal. Now I think I just wasted my life for nothing.”
He has married upon return, and lives with his wife and in-laws in Shimla, where he plies a taxi. “BJP leader Avinash Rai Khanna and Congress leader Partap Singh Bajwa had announced help, which never came.”
Both his parents died when he was in jail. “The youngest of five brothers and two sisters, I have led the hardest life. And for what?”
Kamaljit Singh Kamal
Gurbax Lal, 47
Ferozepur: Gurbax Lal, once a fellow prisoner of Surjeet Singh (released by Pakistan on Thursday), is a bitter man. And he has good reason. “I was treated like a napkin, used and thrown,” he says, employing a metaphor many from his ilk use to describe themselves.
Now 47, he is a native of Khai Pheme Ki, and is an ITI-qualified draftsman. He came back from Pakistan in 2006, after nearly 17 years in jail. His parents died when he was in jail, and he is a bachelor still “as I do not have a house or enough money”. “Is this the reward of sacrificing one’s youth in enemy jails in service of our nation?”
It was a local doctor who had introduced him to security agencies, who said that if he succeeded to work in Pakistan for five years, he would be permanently recruited in the CBI. “Being jobless and a keen reader of spy mysteries, I accepted the offer.”
He underwent nine months’ training in Delhi where he learnt Islamic rituals, Urdu and other socio-economic systems of Pakistan.
In August 1988, he first went to Pakistan. Taking up the name Sattaar, he worked as a fruit vendor and sent information about Pak army movements from Okada through post routed via Arab countries.
His family was informed that he was working as an LIC agent..
In 1990, another Indian spy Balbir Singh was held by Pakistani security agencies, which made him apprehensive and he shifted base to Lahore. Soon after, he decided to move back to India but failed to get any response.
Adamant, he reached Chak Amro border area in Pakistan, where he was caught and tortured for over two years. He spent 14 years in Kot Lakhpat Jail after he was convicted.
Now working as a daily wager, he wants salary for the period of confinement, a house and a job. Until his arrest in Pakistan, his family got “regular payment”, and later got Rs 600 a month until 1992.
“CM Parkash Singh Badal promised me a house. But the file has not moved beyond some kind of verification by the deputy commissioner’s office.”
Gaurav Sagar Bhaskar
SCARRED MIND, KASHMIR SINGH, 70
Hoshiarpur: He made newspaper headlines all over the world and is perhaps among the very few repatriated former spies who received any kind of financial help from the government, thanks to media frenzy. But the ordeal of 35 years has left Kashmir Singh mentally scarred for life.
“Torture survivors are resolute and tolerant to adversities, but they too break down beyond a point. Though I survived the brutality for over three decades, it left me physically
debilitated for life,” says Singh, who was kept in solitary confinement in Pakistani prisons.
The result: the former spy cannot even recall his correct age today. He used to frequently cross the border and back before he was caught. “I was barely 26-27 when I was arrested. I never saw the light of the day and was tossed from one prison to another,” he narrates. His wife Paramjit Kaur says, “He remains indoors mostly and does not talk about his days in captivity, except when he is very upset.”
His tribulations could have continued had it not been for Pakistan’s then human rights minister Ansar Burney, who spotted him in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail and worked tirelessly for his repatriation. After he was reunited with his family in 2008, the Punjab government gave him a 20-marla plot, Rs 10 lakh for constructing a house and a monthly pension of Rs 10,000. His physically challenged son was also given a government job.