100 km apart, families of two held on Gujarat border on espionage charge live in poverty, uncertainty

In a cluster of traditional Kutchi hay-roof huts — bhungas in local parlance, lived a Pakistani spy, as per the Gujarat Anti-Terrorism Squad.

Written by Gopal Kateshiya , Satish Jha | Updated: November 3, 2016 3:41 pm
ATS, Shakoor Sumra, Anti Terrorism Squad, Pakistani Spy, Pakistan India, Gujarat Pakistan Spy, India news Shakoor Sumra’s wife and children at their home in Sumrapore. Express

THIRTY kilometres from the border, in Sumrapore village in Bhuj, lies a cluster of traditional Kutchi hay-roof huts — bhungas in local parlance. Inside one of these, clothes and quilts lie strewn on the floor. Outside, Hidayatbai Sama tends to her eight-month-old daughter who is down with fever. The door is partially broken and a couple of goats walk in and out. There is an electric bulb at the entrance but the family says the connection was cut after the family failed to pay the bill.

WATCH VIDEO: Pakistan Recalls 6 Staffers After Espionage Case

Here, as per the Gujarat Anti-Terrorism Squad, lived a Pakistani spy.

On October 12 night, Hidayatbai’s husband Shakoor Sumra was arrested for allegedly working for the ISI. The ATS says Shakoor was brought into the spy ring by Alana Sama of Bhuj’s Kukma village, located around 100 km away. Alana, also under arrest, was allegedly “honey-trapped” to work for the ISI by a Pakistani girl he fell in love with.

On October 25, the two were remanded in judicial custody. The court asked their advocate whether they wanted to apply for bail, but he said they would wait.

The ATS says that since Alana was illiterate, he took Shakoor’s help to gather information on the movement of Indian troops and regarding strategic assets, including the Army Cantonment and Air Force Station at Bhuj as well as the BSF, and passed it on to Pakistani handlers. The investigators seized three mobile phones, with allegedly incriminating photos, and three SIM cards from the two, apart from a “Pakistani identity card” from Alana.

There is a BSF border outpost near Sumrapore village.

Says Shakoor’s father Ibrahim Sumra, 65, “He had gone to Bhuj to receive payment from a trader to whom we sell mawa (a milk product used to prepare sweets). He did not return that night. The next morning, we heard he had been picked up by police. We called on his mobile, but it was unreachable. We are destitute now. Of my four sons, only he had received some education.”

Ibrahim has 10 children, with Shakoor, 38, the eldest. Sumrapore is a Muslim-only village, and like most of its 1,200-odd residents, Ibrahim is a cattle herder, owning 15 cows. The space in his hut is almost entirely taken up by the dry fodder he stocks for the cattle.

While the family owns five acres, the salty groundwater and scarce rain limit farming. Nearby is the island of Kunvar Bet from where no-man’s land starts.

Apart from his wife and eight children, Shakoor supported the extended family too, including the widow of his younger brother Amin. Another brother, Hussain, is also a cattle-herder while the fourth takes care of cows of other villagers.

Shakoor’s cousin Saleh says he worked hard to make ends meet. “Besides managing cows, he would take up any work as a daily-wager. He was employed as a security guard in Mundra for around six months. Around two months ago, he left that work and had been doing odd jobs here and there since,” says Saleh, also a daily-wager.

The cousin also claims that rather than spy for Pakistani intelligence agencies, Shakoor “used to work for Indian agencies across the border till a few years ago”.

Another cousin, Karim, claims Shakoor was working for the Research and Analysis Wing (R&AW).

Denying this, an ATS officer says, “This is just an excuse by both the families to escape the law. We investigated from all angles and didn’t find anything to suggest they were double agents.”

“Shakoor used to gather information for Sama and would digitise the data in a memory card. A few memory cards were smuggled to Pakistan by Alana,” the officer adds.

Shakoor’s wife Hidayatbai says she understands little about the charges against him. “While he was away for work, he would call every evening. I don’t know anything about him going to Pakistan or working for anybody,” she says.

The family of Alana Sama, 40, that moved to Kukma after their native village was hit by the earthquake of 2001, is in shock too.

Partially disabled, Alana is the eldest of two sons and two daughters of the late Hamir Sama, an illiterate farmer-cum-cattle herder. Neither of the brothers and sisters received any formal education.

Brother Taiyyab, who sells milk and mawa for a living, says that due to his disability, Alana couldn’t do much work. “After we moved here, he would mostly work as a property dealer and earn petty amounts. Most of the time, he would hang around the Sheikh Pir dargah or go to Bhuj and watch movies,” says Taiyyab.

Alana’s family lives in a one-room house with corrugated cement sheets for roof. The house is almost hidden by babul trees. Alana’s wife Hajrabai works as a labourer at a nearby station of the Central Arid Zone Research Institute, and earns Rs 150 per day.

With Hajrabai away from home from 8 am to 6 pm, the couple’s eldest child, daughter Hasina, 6, looks after their three-year-old son, Nazaam. Five-year-old Kalam, the middle child, is in Class 1.

It is around 8 pm and Hajrabai is busy washing clothes. The children are asleep on two cots that have been laid outside the house. Inside, firewood takes up most of the space. “Police took away a bag containing our ration card, voter identity cards, Aadhaar cards etc,” Hajrabai complains.

Alana’s family too calls the arrest a “frame-up”, claiming he used to work for Indian agencies. “It is true my brother went to Pakistan four times and even fell in love with a girl there. But he had been sent by Indian agencies,” says Taiyyab.

While corroborating that Alana had purchased a mobile phone and a SIM card from Pakistan, he points out that the family has “close” relatives on the other side of the border. The ATS says that it was in the name of those relatives that Alana went to Pakistan, at least one of those times illegally. He grew close to a 17-year-old, who allegedly blackmailed him to extract sensitive information.

Taiyyab says he doesn’t know how Alana met Shakoor. “They knew each other for the last three years. Even I know Shakoor,” he says.

Shakoor’s family, however, denies knowing Alana. Says Ibrahim, “We don’t know who Alana is, or if he was my son’s friend.”

Asks Hajrabai, “If Alana was a terrorist, would we be so poor? Look at our home. Does it have space for even my family?”