Imagine being harassed by police, falsely charged by the government, and hated by the entire nation even if you are completely innocent. This is exactly what happened to one of the most prominent scientist of ISRO, Nambi Narayanan in 1994. Everyone has almost forgotten about him but will he ever forget the humiliation he and his family went through for nearly a decade?
The Early Life of Nambi Narayanan
Nambi Narayanan was born in a middle-class family and was the youngest among his five sisters. His father was a small businessman. Their financial condition collapsed after his father’s death. But even in all the hardships, he was a brilliant student. Nambi Narayanan studied engineering and whatever amount he earned with his job, he used to send it to his family. He worked in a sugar factory for some time and then joined ISRO. The scientists saw through him and recognized his talents instantly. Shortly after joining ISRO, he rose rapidly through the ranks and won a scholarship to study rocket science propulsion systems at Princeton University. Upon his return, he immediately rejoined ISRO and worked with Vikram Sarabhai, Satish Dhawan, and APJ Abdul Kalam.
They all supported Nambi Narayanan and told him to do whatever he pleased.
At that time, India was dependent on other countries for many technologies including liquid-fuelled engines. The cryogenic program was Narayanan’s dream and he wanted to develop this technology for India. India signed a deal with Russia in 1992 in which Russia agreed to transfer the technology of fuelled engines to India. But the U.S. threatened Russia and under the pressure of America, Russia canceled the deal. After that, Nambi Narayanan decided to develop India’s own cryogenic engine. ISRO scientists and his higher officials also supported him.
And The Scandal
Just when everything was going smoothly and he became the key figure in the project to develop homegrown Indian rockets, a major scandal erupted in November 1994. He was accused of sharing classified rocket technology secrets with Pakistan. According to him, he was framed by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the US in which the police and shockingly, the politicians were also involved. A series of events started when Mariam Rasheed, a Maldivian woman was arrested on 22nd October 1994.
According to the Kerala police, she was a Pakistani spy. After her, one more Maldivian woman, Fauzia Hassan was arrested. According to the general plot, 5 conspirators met at Hotel Madras International, exchanged drawings of rocket technology with an ISI agent, and received money from her. IPS officer Raman Srivastava was also accused of supporting those five. Nambi Narayanan was arrested on the 30th of October and taken to a high-security prison.
At that time, congress was heading the government in Kerala and due to pressure from the opposition, CM Karunakaran was forced to quit his position. He was accused of protecting Srivastava by his rival A.K. Antony who took over as CM after Karunakaran resigned. The Congress government formed a special probe team headed by DIG Subh Mathews and after some time, another ISRO scientist D. Sasikumaran was also arrested.
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Mr. Narayanan took lie detector tests but no evidence came out and proved him guilty. He told police that the data was not transferable through paper. He was in captivity for 50 days and almost a month in prison. The local news reported him as a spy of Pakistan and the whole nation came to detest him. Whenever he was taken outside for trails, the crowds would shout at him and call him a traitor. He went through third-degree torture and his family suffered whenever they went in public. His whole career, honor, and dignity were thrown away in just a few days. He was put together behind the bars with a serial killer.
After a month, CBI took over the case and started investigating. They found many plot holes in the story. Mr. Narayanan was clearly framed. He was bailed on 19 January 1995. At midnight when he reached home, his wife was lying on the floor in a dark room. She responded only when he called her twice and started screaming because she was very traumatized to know that her husband was a traitor. She was shocked and depressed because his absence affected her mental health.
In 1996, federal detectives clarified that there was no evidence of confidential documents being stolen from ISRO or money being exchanged. He went back to work but his dignity was lost. The local government tried to reopen the case in 1998. He came out clean again and the supreme court dismissed the case. Later, he sued the Kerala government for framing him. Kerala government awarded him 5 million rupees but according to him, the story was not finished yet. He wanted to see his culprits being punished. After all, they destroyed his reputation. Supreme court ordered to investigate indulgence of Kerala police in framing him and government paid him extra 13 million rupees as compensation of his harassment. Later in 2018, he was awarded the third-highest civilian award, the Padma Shri.
If he wasn’t arrested in 1994, India could have developed its own rocket technology by 2000. Now, fortunately, he is gaining his reputation again. A movie named Rocketry: The Nambi Effect based on his life is releasing soon in India.
We just hope that no innocent ever goes through what Mr. Nambi Narayan went through, despite serving the nation with honesty.
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