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The spy who wasn't ?


A DAUGHTER'S FIGHT: Urvashi Shandil has sought papers pertaining to her father's dismissal under RTI

Every time Urvashi Shandil was asked about her father's profession, she cringed. As a child, she couldn't understand why men who wore olive green saw their uniform as a badge of honour. It was only when she grew up that she realised how the stigma attached to her father's dismissal from the army 32 years ago had made life different for her.

Urvashi is the daughter of Captain ND Sharma, one of the officers whose services were terminated in 1980 following alleged involvement in the infamous Samba spy case. The 32-year-old banker based in Panchkula, near Chandigarh, has now decided to get to the truth behind the allegations the army framed against her father. She has moved an application under the Right to Information Act (RTI) seeking a copy of the Summary of Evidence (SOE) recorded before the initiation of court martial proceedings against her father and other officers. The services of these officers were later terminated without completion of the court martial by invoking the doctrine of pleasure exercised by the President of India.

Urvashi wonders why her father wasn't court-martialed despite being charged with the serious offence of spying for and visiting Pakistan. "It proves that my father was falsely implicated, " she says. She has asked for an audience with the President of India and the defence secretary. "What can be more shocking than the fact that my father and other officers framed in the case were charged for visiting Kandral post in Pakistan, which was actually an Indian post manned by Indian BSF?" she asked.

Urvashi's father, Captain ND Sharma, turns to poetry when he is asked about his fate. "Tamanna to Himalaya ko chhune ki thi par paon mein bediyan dal di gayee (My aspiration was to touch the Himalayan peaks but I was restrained by chains), " says the 71-year-old bedridden former army officer. He suffered a heart attack and brain stroke many years ago.

Sharma started his career as sepoy at the age of 17 and rose to become a commissioned officer. On the night of January 20, 1979, while posted in Jammu, his career was cut short when he was asked to report to the headquarters of the 168 Brigade. There he was arrested on charges of espionage based on allegations made by Captain A K Rana. He was accused of crossing the border to meet Major Khan from Pakistan along with Rana. The place mentioned in the charge sheet as being in Pakistan later turned out to be an Indian post guarded by the BSF.

Recalling the painful days of her childhood, Urvashi says that her father was the sole bread earner of the family and after the incident, he lost his job as well as all benefits an army officer is entitled to. The indignity of being involved in a spy case made conditions more hostile and survival became a daily battle for the family.

"I will fight till it I get answers to all my questions, " Urvashi says. "If people ask why my father left the Army, I still find it difficult to reply. My fight is for my father's honour so that he can at least die peacefully. "

Samba spy case revisited

In 1975, Indian Army gunners Swaran Dass and Aya Singh were arrested from Jhansi, where they were posted. Based on inputs from the Intelligence Bureau (IB), they were charged for spying for Pakistan. En route to Jammu, Swaran Dass escaped from custody near Jallandar and went to Pakistan. He was caught the following year and handed over to Military Intelligence (MI).

Dass named several officers during custodial interrogation. They were later picked up by MI, tortured and implicated in the Samba spy case. Between August 24, 1978 and January 23, 1979, the army arrested 27 officers, three JCOs, nine NCOs and 11 civilians linked to the 168 Infantry Brigade and subordinate units. Several officers were dismissed summarily by the President of India under Section 18 of the Army Act.

In 1994, Sarwan Dass signed an affidavit confessing he had named innocent people after 'coercive methods' were used on him by MI. In 2001, Delhi High Court termed the Samba case a gross miscarriage of justice. Former IB chief TV Rajeswar also said that the case needed to be re-examined;RAW, IB and J&K police said no action against any of the officers was called for.

Even after confessing that he had named innocent people, prime accused Sarwan Dass rejoined the army and was tried for desertion, not espionage. Discharged from the army without pension, he now lives near Jammu. The other prime accused, Aya Singh was shot dead in 1990 by the army while trying to cross the border.

The army has challenged the Delhi High Court verdict in the Supreme Court where the case is pending.

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