BENGALURU: Called everything from a “desh drohi” (traitor) to a business magnate to a multi-millionaire as part of the multiple conspiracies that resulted from the bizarre ISRO spy case of 1994 in which he was framed as involved, then ISRO’s labour contractor Sudhir Kumar Sharma says that it was his attempt to do a favour for his 'close friend' Chandrasekhar that landed him in this mess.
"D Chandrasekhar (then Russian Space Agency Glavkosmos’ India representative) had met two Maldivian women at the Trivandrum airport, who had come here to get admission for their children in Bengaluru and had been cheated by an agent. Chandrasekhar asked me for help since I knew the husband of the then-principal of Baldwin Girls High School, and I arranged for a meeting between them. That was my only role in this," says Sharma.
Arrested for his apparent association with Nambi Narayanan and Chandrasekhar, Sharma recalls, "I was tortured by the police. They would coax me to tell them what they wanted to hear, and would beat me each time I pleaded innocence.” “I stood for three days with no food, no medicines for my diabetes, and was beaten so much that my hands and legs shake till date," alleges Sharma.
For close to three months, the accused were held at the Vanchiyoor Police Station, Thiruvananthapuram, which is where Sharma first met Narayanan and formed a friendship that holds strong till date."They (media) called me a business magnate. No one knew I lived in a two bedroom house with my wife and three daughters at the time," says Sharma. A labour contractor in the steel business at that time, Sharma had two factories, in Chennai and here, one of which has shut down now.
Sharma says when he was accused in November 1994, he didn't even know the full form of ISRO, and that his first encounter with Narayanan was when they met in jail. His wife Kiran and youngest daughter Monisha, who was just two years old at the time (1994), recount how they were shunned and ostracised by family and friends, Kiran had no one to go to.
Sharma lost all his friends, and would notice people walk away when they saw him enter somewhere. Tearing up, he recalls the gut wrenching moments when his two older daughters would cry and tell him how their schoolmates bullied them over what they thought their father had done.
Double tragedies struck kin
Sharma's father, a retired Indian Army Captain, passed away from shock over his son being branded as a anti-national spy, especially after he himself had served the country for 30 years, and Sharma’s mother-in-law slipped into coma, also due to shock.
Says Kiran, “People kept trying to break my spirit. We would be watched, threatened, calls would come at all times of the night, but I knew I had to stay by my husband's side.”They had to sell their cars, jewellery and land to pay the lawyer’s fees and meet expenses for frequent transport to Kerala and Delhi. "We wouldn't have even D30 at home on some days," she recalls.
The strain eventually caught up with Sharma. A few years ago, doctors told Sharma he had developed an auto-immune disease called Bullous Pemphgodi (a skin disease resulting in painful blisters) as a result of stress. Years of taking steroids affected Sharma's health, resulting in cancer.
"I've had 20 rounds of chemo and 45 cycles of radiation. The doctors say that there's nothing else I can do, and that it's just a matter of time now," says Sharma.Youngest daughter Monisha says if the suit for damages (amounting to D55 lakh) they filed back in 1998 comes through, they can pay back their loans and also get better care for her father. However, the case has been pending for 18 years now, but the family is hopeful that after seeing Narayanan get relief, they will too.
WHO WERE INDICTED THEN
Narayanan, then-head of the cryogenics division at ISRO; D Sasikumaran, Narayanan's colleague from the same department; two Maldvian women; D Chandrasekhar, Russian Space Agency Glavkosmos’ India representative; and SK Sharma, a labour contractor from Bengaluru, were accused in November 1994 for selling 'vital defence secrets' to Pakistan. On September 14, after 24 years of fighting to clear his name, Narayanan was awarded a compensation amount of Rs 50 lakh from the SC for the humiliation and suffering he went through after being arrested by the Kerala Police. While Narayanan became the face of the case, SK Sharma’s involvement has never been understood.