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Nation's hero dies unsung

No bugle was sounded nor were any arms reversed as Balbir Singh's body, draped in the national Tricolour, was taken in a hurry to the cremation ground and silently consigned to flames amid grieving family members.

punjab Updated: Apr 11, 2012 11:25 IST
Harkirat Singh
Harkirat Singh
Hindustan Times

No bugle was sounded nor were any arms reversed as Balbir Singh's body, draped in the national Tricolour, was taken in a hurry to the cremation ground and silently consigned to flames amid grieving family members on Tuesday morning.

Yet another hero of the country had passed away unsung. There will be no history books to tell the countrymen of his exploits, which will remain a closely guarded secret in dusty government files.

This is the story of 65-year-old Balbir Singh of Mahal village on the outskirts of the city, who passed away after a massive heart attack on Monday evening. As his body lay in his home in a narrow lane in the village, his expressionless face and half-shut eyes seemed to convey a silent message of unfulfilled promises and the traumatic past of a person who risked his life for the nation but got nothing in return.

The handful of mourners on Tuesday morning consisted of people from the village and a couple of relatives. As his 20-year-old son Jaswant Singh draped his father's body in the national flag, his widow Sukhwinder Kaur and her teenaged daughter Jaswinder Kaur wept silently.

Jaswant took out a couple of files from the corner of a room and showed the letters his father had written to the central and state governments, requesting to be compensated for the 12 years he had spent in Pakistani jails on charges of spying.

He also showed details of the case which his father had filed in the Punjab and Haryana high court, demanding compensation for the torture and trauma he had to undergo.

"My father served the country and got nothing in return. He died a shattered man who spent 12 years of his youth behind the bars. The government may not recognise his services to the nation, but we are giving him a hero's send-off," Jaswant told HT, showing old newspaper clippings featuring his father's past and his fight for justice.

Before moving to the cremation ground, Jaswant and his family members handed over a memorandum addressed to the state government demanding compensation for the family, which is virtually living hand to mouth. In fact, for the past two years, Balbir had stopped working after suffering a stroke, which slowly took its toll as he did not have the money to go to a doctor or buy medicines.

Life as a spy

Originally hailing from Nanowal village of Gurdaspur district, Balbir was a robust and healthy youngster when the Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) recruited him in 1971 a few weeks before the India-Pakistan war. He was trained, circumcised and given the name Mohammad Sultan and even learnt to recite the 'namaaz'.

He made several trips to Pakistan and brought back sketches of strategic locations and army deployments on the other side of the border. This continued even after the war ended. Later, Balbir was listed by the military intelligence and his contacts across the border were Pakistani soldiers who had been taken as prisoners of war.

"The money was good in those days and I also got carried away by the passion to serve my country," Balbir had said in one of his interviews to HT in 2008.

However, in 1974, luck ran out for Balbir when one of his contacts got him nabbed. Thereafter, he was kept in solitary confinement for two years. After being tried, he was sentenced to 10-year imprisonment. He finally returned home in 1986 at the age of 38.

However, he had to leave Nanowal as terrorists wanted him to join their fold. He settled in Mahal, got married and worked for sometime at a factory and then took up the job of a chowkidar in the city. However, after a heart stroke, he could no longer carry on and became dependent on his son, a daily wager.

At first, Balbir wrote letters to the central and state governments, appealing for compensation and even cited cases of certain spies who had got compensation. However, after his appeals fell on deaf ears, he moved court and at one stage even threatened to commit suicide.

Court case

Human rights lawyer Ranjan Lakhanpal, who is fighting Balbir's case for compensation in the high court, told HT that the next hearing would be on April 17. He said that now his son would be made a party in the case.

On the apathy of the government in spying cases, Lakhanpal said, "The government does not care for them. It uses them and then throws them as waste paper. They are our unsung heroes who have suffered the worst torture. They have never been given any compensation nor have they or their families been taken care of."

First Published: Apr 11, 2012 11:17 IST