Nambi NarayananImage copyright
Vivek Nair

Take into consideration your existence being modified by a single dramatic 2nd. That is what came about to a prime scientist in the Indian condominium programme, when in some unspecified time in the future, 25 years ago, police officers knocked at his door.

The 2nd

One winter afternoon a quarter of a century ago three policemen arrived at a condominium in a slim lane in the southern Indian metropolis of Trivandrum, the capital of the declare of Kerala.

The officers were polite and respectful, Nambi Narayanan remembers.

They told the condominium scientist that their boss, a deputy inspector general of police, wished to talk over with him.

„Am I below arrest?“ Mr Narayanan asked.

„No sir,“ the officer stated.

It was 30 November 1994. The 53-twelve months-passe scientist led the Indian condominium agency’s cryogenic rocket engine project, and was to blame for shopping the know-how from Russia.

Mr Narayanan walked out to the waiting police automobile. He asked whether or no longer he have to sit in the entrance or the support – suspects were customarily dumped in the support seat.

The policemen asked him to sit down in the entrance, and the Jeep rolled out of the lane.

After they arrived at the police space, the boss wasn’t there, so Mr Narayanan was asked to abet a bench. Policemen gaped at him as they passed by.

„They had that look for as in the occasion that they were having a glimpse at someone who had carried out some crime,“ Mr Narayanan says.

He waited and waited. The boss did no longer flip up.

As evening fell, he dozed off on the bench. When he woke up subsequent morning, he was told he was below arrest.

A scrum of journalists had arrived, and inner hours newspapers were describing him as a traitor – a one who had sold rocket know-how to Pakistan, after falling into a honey trap plight by two girls folks from the Maldives.

His existence was never the identical again.

Sooner than

Nambi Narayanan was the first boy in a heart-class household, after 5 girls. His father was a businessman, shopping and selling in coconut kernel and fibre. His mother stayed at dwelling to prance making an strive to salvage after the childhood.

Younger Nambi was an actual student and topped his senior class. He went to an engineering college, obtained a level and labored in a sugar manufacturing unit for a whereas, before becoming a member of the Indian Set Review Organisation (Isro). „I consistently had a fascination for aircrafts and flying objects,“ he says.

Nambi Narayanan in 1967

At the agency, he rose without warning thru the ranks until he acquired a scholarship to prance making an strive to salvage rocket propulsion systems at Princeton University. He rejoined the condominium agency when he returned dwelling a twelve months later.

At Isro Mr Narayanan labored with the stalwarts of India’s condominium programme: scientists indulge in Vikram Sarabhai, its founder and first chairman, Satish Dhawan, his successor, and Abdul Kalam, who later grew to alter into India’s 11th president.

„When I began working with Isro, the condominium organisation was in its infancy. We never essentially had a conception of rising any rocket systems. We were planning to make employ of rockets from the US and France to flee our payloads,“ Mr Narayanan says.

However the conception modified, and Mr Narayanan grew to alter into a key figure in the project to offer homegrown Indian rockets.

Nambi Narayanan with Russian scientists

Image caption

Mr Narayanan (precise) with Russian scientists in the early 1990s

He labored diligently as a scientist until his existence was grew to alter into the other blueprint up in November 1994.

A month before his arrest, the Kerala police had arrested a Maldivian woman, Mariam Rasheeda, on charges of overstaying her visa. Weeks later, they picked up her friend, Fauziyya Hassan, a monetary institution employee visiting from Male, the capital of the Maldives. A valuable scandal then erupted.

Inspired by police leaks, native newspapers reported that the Maldivian girls folks were spies stealing India’s rocket „secrets“ and selling them to Pakistan, in cahoots with scientists at the condominium agency.

Mr Narayanan, it was now claimed, was one in all the scientists who had succumbed to the girls folks’s charms.


The day he was formally arrested, Mr Narayanan was produced in court docket.

„The heart of attention on asked me whether or no longer I would confess to the crime. I asked, ‚What crime?‘ They stated, ‚The indisputable truth that you just’ve transferred the know-how.‘ I would per chance per chance no longer realize one thing else,“ he remembers.

The heart of attention on remanded him to judicial custody for 11 days. A memorable picture from that time presentations the scientist strolling down the steps of the court docket building, wearing a bad-coloured shirt and gentle-weight grey trousers, surrounded by policemen.

„I was in a shock, and then a trance. At one occasion it perceived to me that I was watching a movie – with me because the central persona,“ Mr Narayanan wrote in his memoirs.

Nambi NarayananImage copyright
Vivek Nair

Image caption

Mr Narayanan says India’s rocket project suffered thanks to the scandal

Over the following couple of months, his dignity and repute were torn to shreds. He was charged with violating India’s first payment secrets legislation and corruption, among other things.

His interrogators beat him up and handcuffed him to a bed. They forced him to stand and answer questions for 30 hours on live. They made him lift lie-detector assessments even supposing the outcomes are no longer admitted as proof in Indian courts.

Then they took him to a excessive safety jail, the effect one in all his co-prisoners was a „serial killer“ who had bludgeoned his victims to demise. (The person told Mr Narayanan that he had been finding out regarding the case and that he would per chance per chance repeat that the scientists were innocent.)

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Mr Narayanan told the police that rocket secrets „would per chance per chance no longer be transferred by paper“ and that he was clearly being framed. The indisputable truth that India was unruffled struggling to perform cryogenic know-how to create extremely efficient rocket engines did no longer decrease any ice with the detectives.

In the tip, Mr Narayanan spent 50 days in captivity – including practically a month in jail. At any time when he was taken to a court docket listening to, crowds seemed shouting that he was a gaze and a traitor.

But a month after his arrest India’s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) took over the case from Kerala’s Intelligence Bureau. Mr Narayanan told federal detectives that none of the knowledge he handled was categorized. „I originate no longer know the blueprint this total thing has advance to this stage. We’re terribly sorry,“ one detective told him.

Nambi Narayanan with President Ramnath KovindImage copyright
Shahbaz Khan

Image caption

Mr Narayanan was awarded India’s prestigious Padma award in 2019

After at final securing bail on 19 January 1995, he arrived dwelling quickly before heart of the evening.

He went upstairs to shatter the knowledge to his wife. She was sleeping on the ground in a bad room, and replied completely after he called out her identify twice.

„She grew to alter into around slowly, raised her head and stayed unruffled, staring into my eyes. She had a abnormal expression, as if she was watching me doing one thing corrupt,“ Mr Narayanan recounted later.

„Then she let loose a exclaim that I had never heard – from a human or an animal.“

The cry coursed thru the condominium. Then she fell restful.

Her husband’s incarceration and absence had severely affected Meenakshi Ammal’s psychological smartly being. The couple had been married for practically three decades and had introduced up two childhood together, but after Mr Narayanan’s arrest the austere temple-going woman had slipped into despair and stopped talking.

Moreover Mr Narayanan, 5 others had also been accused of espionage and transferring rocket know-how to Pakistan. One was his colleague at Isro, D Sasikumaram; there was also Ms Rasheeda and her friend (neither of whom Mr Narayanan had met, before he was arrested); and two other Indian men, an employee of the Russian condominium agency and a contractor.

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Key dates

1994 – Narayanan arrested and remanded in custody, then bailed in January 1995

1996 – Exonerated by the Central Bureau of Investigation

1998 – Supreme Court at final dismisses Kerala government’s enchantment

2001 – Kerala government ordered to pay compensation

2018 – Supreme Court orders investigation into fabrication of case

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In 1996, the CBI’s closing 104-page inform exonerated all of them. Federal detectives stated there was no proof of any confidential paperwork being stolen from the condominium agency and sold, or of money being exchanged for drawings of engines. An inner investigation by Isro also stumbled on that no drawings of the cryogenic engines were missing.

Mr Narayanan went relief to work for Isro – though now in an admin position in Bangalore – but his travails hadn’t advance to an live. Even after the detectives closed the case, the native government tried to reopen it, and dragged in the Supreme Court, which at final brushed apart the case in 1998.

When Mr Narayanan sued the Kerala government for framing him, he was awarded 5 million rupees ($70,000; £53,000). Last month, the federal government stated it would pay him a further 13 million rupees as compensation for his illegal arrest and harassment.

Nambi Narayanan with his daughterImage copyright
Vivek Nair

Image caption

Nambi Narayanan with his daughter, Geetha, a trainer

But from the 78-twelve months-passe’s level of take into myth, the story is no longer completed yet. In 2018, the Supreme Court ordered an investigation into the position of the Kerala police in the fabrication of the case in opposition to him, and Mr Narayanan is raring to prance making an strive to salvage the outcomes. „I would like those that fabricated this case in opposition to me to be punished,“ he says. „One chapter is over, but the following chapter is unruffled there.“

The motive for the plight in opposition to him and the 5 others remains a thriller.

Used to be it a conspiracy by a rival condominium energy – as Mr Narayanan suspects – to streak India’s construction of cryogenic rocket know-how, which at final grew to alter into the backbone of the country’s successes in condominium? Did it desire to originate with rivals who were nervous about India forcing its manner into the industrial satellite originate market with competitive prices? Or was it purely a made of corruption with India itself?

„It was born out of one conspiracy. However the conspirators were diverse with diverse motives, and the victims were the identical plight of folks,“ says Mr Narayanan.

„Whatever it’s, my profession, honour, dignity and happiness were lost. And the those that were to blame for this are unruffled scot free.“

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