Jammu: He was driving a taxi in Jammu when a passenger offered him a chance to “spy for the nation” and earn big bucks. As a 24-year-old, he grabbed the opportunity. But now, after more than three decades and a 10-year jail stint in Pakistan, a frail and hapless Vinod Sawhney struggles for his livelihood.
Sawhney, 59, still curses the day when the allurement of money got him entangled in the network of Indian intelligence that launched him as a “spy” in Pakistan.
He is currently undergoing treatment at the Government Medical College Hospital where the authorities lodged him after forcibly evicting him from Press Club Thursday night. He was on a hunger strike for over a week demanding “some means to earn a livelihood” from the government.
Sawhney narrated his story on how Indian intelligence officers hooked him to “spy for the nation”. He used to drive a taxi in Jammu at 24 years of age. On an August day in 1977, a passenger asked him how much he earned. “I told him I earned around `300 monthly… he said I could earn much more by doing work for him. I agreed.”
“I was brainwashed and told that what I was going to do would be of immense service to the nation,” Sawhney narrated to IANS.
The next day he was taken to Suchetgarh border, about 35km west of Jammu, and pushed into Pakistan along with three other people and a guide. “I was told that my code name is Vinod 22, but I was not told the names or codes of others.”
Sawhney and his group kept moving in Pakistani cities like Sialkot, Islamabad, Faislabad and Sheikhupura. “Then one day, I don’t know what happened, the guide got me arrested. I was lodged in Sialkot jail.”
He underwent about nine months’ trial and was finally lodged in the Multan central jail. His family approached the government seeking his release. Finally he, along with 109 others, was repatriated in 1988. Thereafter, he kept pleading unsuccessfully at various levels in government for rehabilitation or pension.
He asked the government to give him some job or pension as he had “lost the prime of my life in service of the nation”, but nothing happened.
He got married to Kailash Rani in 1990 and has two sons — Vivek, 19, and Vidur, 13. “They are studying with the support of my brothers who are well-to-do and doing business.” Sawhney lives in his paternal house in the Bakshi Nagar area.
He says his poor condition affected his health and he even suffered a brain haemorrhage and slipped into a coma for 21 days. “Today after seven days of hunger strike my heart rate is 40 and blood pressure 70/40. This is what I am getting for serving the nation,” he rues.