Rediff Navigator News


Capital Buzz

The Rediff Poll

Crystal Ball

Click Here

The Rediff Special


The Rediff Special

The Samba Case, the Indian army's darkest chapter

Captain R S Rathaur "They boasted of 36 methods of torture. My body was lacerated all over. My ears were disfigured. My left hand was paralysed following the insertion of needles under my fingernails; they tore my whiskers, hair by hair, and drove an iron rod up my arse. They would tie weights to my testicles and drag me on the floor by one leg, with one man sitting astride my back."

-- Captain R S Rathaur one of the prime accused in the Samba spy case about his interrogation by the Indian army.

"He (Havaldar Ram Swarup) was brought to the interrogation centre on September 24, 1978. The usual third degree methods were allegedly applied and he succumbed to his injuries on October 1. His body was thrown on a road in New Delhi cantonment. The postmortem revealed 44 injury marks including electric burns on the body."

-- Ved Prakash, a member of the army general court martial that tried the Samba accused, in his book The Samba Spying Scandal.

They all remember exactly what they were doing when the telephone rang on the night of January 22, 1979. The signals officer had just finished celebrating his daughter's birthday. The G-3 officer had just met his wife and son after a year-and-a-half and was making up for lost time. The commanding officer was just getting into bed after his usual nightcap.

And then the telephone interrupted them and they were asked to report to office immediately.

Surprised, but not unduly so, they put on their uniforms and left.

Next morning, wives of scores of officers were handed over their husbands' caps and belts. And by way of information, a series of lies: "No ma'am, we don't know why your husband has been arrested... we don't know when he will be back, ma'am."

For weeks no one knew what had happened. But when the news did break, finally, it took the whole country by storm. On the night intervening 22-23 January, 1979, the army had arrested at least 62 -- some say close to a 100 -- of its own men on charges of spying.

The scale was unprecedented and unimaginable. That the army had found so many spies in its own ranks shook the country. And in the furore that followed, the episode came to be called the Samba spy scandal -- taking its name from the small town, 40 kilometres from Jammu, from where most of the men were arrested.

Many believed it was a wound that the Indian army would take a long time to heal.

Eighteen years later, that wound has been reopened.

After the initial plaudits for the army for breaking such a huge spy ring, doubts began to creep in.

Could so many men really have been working as spies? Most of them were posted at the 168 infantry brigade at Samba. If the charges were true, almost an entire brigade of the army had been working for Pakistan for five years. Was that plausible? Could an entire brigade have been corrupted?

Wives of arrested officers had held a dharna before the then defence minister Chaudhary Charan Singh's house in Delhi, complaining their husbands had been victimised and were being tortured. But the army remained tight-lipped on grounds of national security, and more and more people began to find disturbing discrepancies in its actions.

Havaldar Ram Swarup's tortured body, thrown on the Delhi streets, suddenly held new meaning. Was the army telling the truth?

This question may have never been answered. The army wasn't saying anything, and for a long time, the judiciary had refused to intervene. Though several officers and their wives had appealed to the Delhi high court for a review, it had held such actions of the army lay outside its purview.

Some men were sentenced to long years in prison -- seven to 14 -- after an army general court martial found them guilty of spying. Others were dismissed from service under Section 18 of the Army Act which allows for dismissal "at the pleasure of the sovereign."

Thus, despite numerous indicators that there had been a miscarriage of justice, the army would have got away without having to ever give an explanation. Had not Supreme Court Justice Sunanda Bhandare held in 1994 that Section 18 of the Act could be challenged if prime facie mala fide was established.

Here, fate intervened. According to one retired officer, in the Indian army's reply to the plaint, an internal note had inadvertently slipped in. The note, from one officer to another, apparently said all attempts should be made to stop the trial because if the case did go to court, the army had no real defence to offer.

Though the note was later withdrawn, the damage had been done.

And so, on the 19th of this month, a series of hearings has begun to review the Indian army's charges of spying against many of its men and officers.

Kind courtesy: Sunday magazine

Tell us what you think of this report


Home | News | Business | Cricket | Movies | Chat
Travel | Life/Style | Freedom | Infotech

Copyright 1997 Rediff On The Net
All rights reserved