March 17, 2001


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The Rediff Interview/ S Nambinarayanan

'No amount of money can compensate for what I have lost in my life'
'No amount of money can compensate for what I have lost in my life'

I have full faith that truth would prevail,' S Nambinarayanan had declared after he was freed from police custody in January 1996 following 50 days of torture by police and intelligence officials in the notorious Indian Space Research Organisation espionage case.

On Friday, the senior ISRO scientist found truth rewarding when the National Human Rights Commission ordered the Kerala government to pay him Rs 1 million as compensation for trampling with his human rights.

"It is not the money that is important, but the vindication of my stand," says Nambinarayanan. "The judiciary has come to my rescue when the entire society ostracised me due to the machinations of some evil minds. Justice will be fully done only if those responsible for torturing me physically and mentally are brought to book. I have faith in the judiciary."

Nambinarayanan, who now works as director of advanced technology and planning at the ISRO headquarters in Bangalore, is hopeful that his fight for justice will eventually bear fruit. The senior scientist shares his views on the Kafkaesque nightmare his family and he went through with D Jose.

What do you feel when you look back at the events of the last two months of 1994?

When I read in the newspapers about the arrest of a Maldivian woman Mariam Rasheeda on October 20, 1994 on the charge of overstay I could never imagine it would snowball into a spy case involving one of the most outstanding scientific organisations in the country. Some evil mind somewhere started it and others blew it up. I considered it my fate. According to our belief we might have done something wrong if we have to get this kind of fate.

I don't know what sin I committed. It is a very complex question. I don't think anyone can answer it straight. I am not the central character in the episode. There are five others, who suffered like me. I could not make out any rationale explanation for the happenings. Like all the others I was also wondering what was happening, what would happen further and how it was going to end. I was arrested in early December 1994 and tortured for 50 days to confess a crime I never committed.

What hurt you most those days?

I was physically and mentally tortured. This was painful, but what hurt me most was the charge of treason they levelled against me. They had started calling me a traitor and the people in the state reacted in consonance with the police. They ostracised my innocent family.

I was not able to go to the temple. No autorickshaw fellow entertained us. How could I deserve this kind of treatment after putting in three decades of service to the nation without any blemish? It was most cruel. They trampled with my reputation, integrity, career, family life and everything I held dear.

Are you satisfied with the NHRC order for compensation and action against your torturers?

I am very happy about it. The NHRC has awarded compensation despite the civil suit for damages pending in the lower court. They understood my position even when I put it in a layman's perspective. I argued my case without the help of a lawyer. The government represented by eminent lawyers could not impress the Commission about several technical objections, like the time limit.

I had no money to pay a lawyer. It is gratifying to note that an ordinary person like me could represent my case. Though the NHRC is not strictly like a court, the procedures are the same. I could communicate to the judges my facts and the truth without the strict legal formalities found in normal courts.

Are you satisfied with the amount sanctioned as interim compensation?

It is not the money that matters in the case. No amount of money can compensate the losses I have suffered. Nobody can give back what I have lost in my life. The NHRC verdict is significant for me because it is another vindication of my innocence. It is a reply to those who still call me a spy.

There are still people who repeat that I am guilty despite several courts passing judgment in the case. It is an insult to the judiciary. I am sure these people will realise their mistake and regret it.

The judiciary in this country is impeccable and unquestionably strong. The verdicts in the ISRO case makes me believe strongly that nothing in this country can go unchecked. The judiciary in India is really the pillar of our democracy. The country is going to survive on this strength.

The judiciary is the lifeline and nerve centre of this nation. I am proud of this strong and unbiased judiciary, which kept my hopes and fighting spirit alive. If it were not for the judiciary I would not have been here now. This judgment has increased my conviction in the judiciary. It proves that nobody, however high he may be, can get away with willful conduct.

Why did you approach both NHRC and the courts for damages?

The issues involved are different. One was the violation of human rights guaranteed by the Constitution. The police could arrest me if they suspected any wrongdoing on my part, but they could not manhandle and torture me. It was beyond their power. They violated my human rights and abused me, both physically and mentally. Those who have done this should get the punishment.

The matters I have raised in the civil suit are the defamation caused to me and damages. They have ruined my career, family life and reputation.

At what stage is the civil suit pending in the sub-court at Trivandrum?

There are two parts in the case. One is regarding the huge court fee that I had to pay for claiming damages commensurate to the loss I have suffered. As I didn't have the money to pay the required fee for claiming damages for Rs 10 million, I have declared myself a pauper. The court is examining this aspect.

I have only this house as my asset in life. I am sure the court would not ask me to sell it and remit the court fee. I understand that the hearing in the case will start soon.

Have you taken stock about how you were implicated in the case? Who were responsible for it?

It is difficult to say. It all happened in one day. A started, B picked it up, C played it up and D blew it up. It was a combination of various forces. It is boring for you and me to describe the sequence. I would spell out everything in the book I am writing about the case.

Were some ISRO employees involved in any way in implicating you?

I can't rule out this. As a man who sat on various committees deciding matters regarding purchase, appointment and promotion, I had earned many enemies within the organisation. I had always adopted a strict standard for promotions. Promoting an undeserving candidate would ruin the organisation. My uncompromising stand on this might have hurt many. It is common in all organisations.

How the case has affected your career?

It is difficult to find a direct answer to this question. I remained under suspension for 18 months. I can't imagine what would have been the course of my career if this case were not there. If I say something it would only be conjecture. However, one thing is certain. The case has shattered my confidence. I can't take decisions as I used to earlier. The demoralisation has made me suspicious.

Have the perceptions of people against you changed both within the organisation and society?

There are four factors worth noting. One is the role played by the judiciary as I mentioned above. The second is the media, which sought to crucify me without knowing the facts. But once they understood that they were misguided, the Fourth Estate made amends and fought with me for justice. The third is the change in the attitude of people. The people who threw stones at me were ready to accept me when they realised I was innocent. This may be because of the literacy and enlightenment of people.

Though Kerala is an adopted state for me, the people loved me and supported me in my fight for justice. Misunderstandings are natural in society. It is difficult for people to admit their mistakes. Here in Kerala, the people have profusely apologised for their mistake.

However, there is a class who are still not ready to admit their mistakes. These are the ruling people and public servants. They still keep on saying they are right. I want these people to realise my innocence and repent for wreaking havoc with my life.

I will fight until this unrepentant section is brought to book.

Are you satisfied with the support you got from the scientific community?

They were late to respond. Maybe because they were puzzled with the happenings. Once they realised the true state of things, they came out in support to me. I can't explain what a boost people like T N Seshan, S Dhawan and U R Rao, Professor Yash Pal, Professor R Narasimha and S Chandrashekar gave me by coming out openly against the torture after the Kerala government decided to reopen the case. I can never forget their gesture, because it gave me the courage to fight.

Do you think spying is possible in rocketry?

If drawings and documents help, we would have made the cryogenic engine years ago. I didn't know what people were talking when they accused me of passing drawings and documents relating to the Viking engine and cryogenic technology to enemy countries in exchange for large amounts of money.

Design: Dominic Xavier

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