Former ISRO Scientist Nambi Narayanan's Win Rekindles Hope For Bengaluru Man

"Wherever we went, they followed us in old Hindi-film style -- holding newspapers with holes, when we moved, they moved," says SK Sharma

SK Sharma has Stage 4 cancer and has had 20 chemotherapy and 45 radiation sessions.

Bengaluru:

SK Sharma, a labour contractor, was accused of espionage in the infamous Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) spy case in 1994 for what he says is his helpful nature. He knew D Chandrashekar, a representative of a Russian space agency and another accused in the case. And through Mr Chandrasekhar, he helped a Maldivian woman, whom Chandrashekar had met, to get a seat in a school for a child. He spoke to some people he knew who were running a school.

Mr Chandrasekhar was arrested on suspicions of spying and the police soon came to search Mr Sharma's home and factory.

Mr Sharma told NDTV, "Chandrasekhar was arrested. They were torturing him and every day they would come up with a new story. They took him to Trivandrum by flight. His wife used to call me and cry, 'Sudhir, you are his best friend. You go and see him."

Mr Sharma saw him after he himself was arrested.

"They searched my house, our bedroom... They checked her jewellery, and clothes," said Mr Sharma.

The police told him, "Your friend has been arrested. You must be hand-in-glove with him. We want to interrogate you. You are a bloody scoundrel."

He was placed under surveillance.

Mr Sharma said, "The whole day and night they were sitting in a jeep outside my house. All my neighbours saw them. Friends who came home were worried. The second day they called me to the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) guest house in Bangalore. They said they wanted to talk. So I went there. They arrested me illegally and kept me for two days without food or medicines. They kept repeating you have done something with Chandrashekhar. We will leave you, but you have to tell us the truth. They tried all sorts of tricks. They released me on the third day with a condition that I go to Trivandrum to meet Siby Mathews."

Mr Sharma's wife was traumatised.

"She asked why are they after you? I said I don't know," Mr Sharma said.

Mr Sharma spoke to advocate Tomy Sebastian, who then took up his case. They travelled to Thiruvananthapuram as instructed. But there he was kept waiting for days before being called in for questioning. And whenever he left his hotel, he was followed.

"Wherever we went, they followed us in old Hindi-film style -- holding newspapers with holes, when we moved, they moved. Suddenly when the paper was down we turned towards them, they turned the other side," he said.

He was finally taken in for questioning after promise to his advocate that he would be brought back in half an hour. But that didn't happen.

"They kept me in the police station. I was forced to sit on a bench without food that afternoon. I told them to send a constable with me so that I could take my medicine and have food. But they refused," he said.

The next morning, after a whole night on the bench, he was taken to the police station.

"They dragged me and I kept shouting what for? Why are you pushing me? I could not understand Malayalam. A person said, 'You have been arrested.' I asked 'what for? ISRO spy case?' He said, yes.
I said I don't know what is ISRO - what it stands for. I don't know a single person in ISRO," Mr Sharma said.

He was asked about his connection with ISRO scientist Nambi Narayanan, who he did not know at all.

"Then they started hitting me with a cane. They slapped and kicked me. After half an hour, this person would vanish and another person would come. They were saying 'you passed all ISRO and defence information to Pakistan'. I cried and cried. I told them I didn't know anything, but they wouldn't listen to me. For three days they didn't let me sit on the ground. Even today I can't walk properly. I still feel scared," Mr Sharma said.

The CBI took over the case and he was in custody for almost 50 days before being released on bail.

But his reputation had been damaged. And it hurt not just him but his family too.

He told NDTV, "My daughters were thrown out from the school. My daughters were humiliated. They were told, 'You people are agents, deshdrohis (anti-nationals). The teachers also said hurtful things."

His social life was affected as well. "People who were so close to me started avoiding me. The moment I entered the club, they would leave. They were scared of me. After a couple of days I thought 'let me not spoil their evenings and I stopped going there."

The family lived through that trauma together. Mr Sharma recalls the visit of his youngest daughter, Monisha, to the jail. "She was two-year-old. My wife brought her to the jail and requested the jailer to allow me to give her a chocolate. She also asked him if it was possible that I met my daughter in plain clothes and not in jail uniform. So for a few minutes, I was given my trouser and shirt. The moment I gave her chocolate we all started crying."

Monisha told NDTV, "I don't remember it, but it sounds like a dystopian novel. I have been to Nambi uncle's house and only recently I realised that they met in jail. He didn't even know this person. My father is stoic but when he talks about all this, he cries."

His wife, Kiran, still cries. "We are from defence families. So it hurt us more."

Mr Sharma has Stage 4 cancer and has had 20 chemotherapy and 45 radiation sessions. It is physically difficult for him to talk at such length. He often gave in to a bout of coughing. But he has not given up hope.

Twenty years ago in 1998, after he had been cleared of all charges, he filed for compensation for his suffering. The case is still pending.

"I am sure one day I will get justice. After Nambi Narayanan got compensation, my hopes have doubled," he said.

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