Reputation of An Individual is An Insegregable Facet of His Right to Life with
, said the Supreme Court in the ISRO spy case which relates to
allegations of transfer of certain confidential documents and secrets of the
countryís cryogenic engine technology to enemy countries.
When the espionage was
unearthed, Nambi Narayanan was in-charge of the cryogenic division. The Kerala
government on August 11 handed over an additional compensation of Rs 1.30 crore
to former scientist of the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) Nambi
Narayanan to settle the two-and-a-half-decade old spy case in which he was
implicated by the state police. Before having narrated the tale of Nambi
Narayanan who was compelled to undergo
immense humiliation and a judicial fight for over fifteen years, let us explore
whether Media Trial disrupts an Individual's Right of a fair trial.
Media trail in India: Media do you have any idea?
Media is regarded as one of the pillars of democracy. Freedom of media is always
equated to the freedom of people to be informed of prevailing social matters.
The free and healthy press is indispensable to the functioning of democracy.
Democracy essentially means the government by the people
and to have active
participation in the decision. It is, therefore, needed that the people be
informed about the current affairs of society. The press and media must
enlighten over issues relating to public importance.
The responsibility of the
press and media is to maintain an unbiased opinion on such matters and to not
interfere in sub-judice matters. The judiciary and the media share a common bond
and play a complementary role to each other. While the media explores,
discovers, and reveals the achievements and follies of man, the judiciary deals
with the legality of it. Both the judiciary and the media are engaged in the
same task: to discover the truth.
The media has been called the watchdog of
society; the judiciary, the dispenser of justice, and the catalyst for social
reforms. Thus, both are essential for the progress of civil society. However, at
times, these two pillars of democracy are at loggerheads. Under the fundamental
right of freedom of speech and expression, the media claims the right to
investigate, to expose, and to highlight the criminal cases. According to it, in
a democracy, people have the right to know.
Therefore, the media has a
corresponding duty to inform the people about the criminal and social affairs.
It, thus, demands the right to carry out sensational publicity. Yet, on the
other hand, the judiciary is aware of the fundamental rights of the accused to a
fair trial. Since pre-trial publicity can derail a fair and speedy trial, the
judiciary has to balance the competing fundamental rights. While the freedom of
speech and expression of the media, the right to know of the people need to be
protected, the right to a fair trial of the accused needs to be secured and
guaranteed. Pre-trial publicity is injurious to the health of a fair trial.
The major shortcoming of the same is that the media proclaims the accused to be
guilty even before he/she is tried or arrested. Press and media show content in
such a form that it is made to believe the published content is the gospel
truth. The principle of criminal trial -- innocent until proven guilty
be understood by media, as premature judgments of guilt or innocence is a denial
of a fair trial to accuse.
When the constitution was being drafted, the members
were very much mindful of the changes and challenges which were likely to take
place in the coming decades. It is why freedom of speech and expression has
been extended to include freedom of the press and media. But the freedom offered
is not absolute. Reasonable restrictions are permitted by sub-clause (2) of the
same article. Parties to litigation have the constitutional right to have a fair
trial in the court of law, one that is unbiased, fair, uninfluenced, impartial,
and free from any kind of pressure.
Photographs, interviews, and other
documents are published on these platforms to increase commercial value and to
sensationalize the reporting. The problem becomes more conspicuous when matters
involve big names and celebrities. In such cases, media reporting can swing
popular sentiments either way. It is, therefore, necessary to make a balance
between the constitutional guarantee of free media on one hand and individual's
right to free trial on the other.
In Saibal Kumar vs. B.K. Sen
, the Supreme
Court tried to discourage the tendency of media trial and remarked, No doubt,
it would be mischievous for a newspaper to systematically conduct an independent
investigation into a crime for which a man has been arrested and to publish the
results of the investigation. This is because trial by newspapers, when a trial
by one of the regular tribunals of the country is going on, must be prevented.
The basis for this view is that such action on the part of a newspaper tends to
interfere with the course of justice, whether the investigation tends to
prejudice the accused or the prosecution.
Media acts as a facilitator along
an expediter on many matters including those affecting the collective the
conscience of society. To cite a few, like Sushant Singh Rajput case
, Jessica Lal case
, and recently the
Nambi Narayanan case
. Though media to a large extent
plays an irrefutably positivist role, the role of media in media trials
specifically of a sexual offense is doubtful. On the same lines, the media fails
to understand the legal implications like the intrusion of victim's privacy, the
the implication of verbatim re-production in the public domain, denial of Right
to a fair trial, the conception of bias in public based on inadmissible evidence
and interfering in the judicial process by impacting the sentencing process
defeats the whole idea of a fair and impartial trial.
The ISRO spy scandal: a completely conjured fictional story
Nambi Narayanan was born on 12 December 1941 (age79; as in 2020) in Kerala,
India. His hometown is Nagercoil in Kanyakumari district of Tamil Nadu. He was
educated at DVD Higher Secondary School, Nagercoil. He completed his bachelor's
in Mechanical Engineering from Thiagarajar College of Engineering, Madras
University, Madurai. Narayanan further went on to join a 20-member team, started
working at Thumba Equatorial Rocket Launching Station (TERLS), Thumba in
He also received a NASA fellowship. Narayanan completed his
Master's in Chemical Rocket Propulsion from Princeton University, New Jersey.
Though NASA offered him US citizenship. Narayanan was determined to pursue
research in India. In 1994, He was falsely accused of espionage in the ISRO spy
The story starts with five conspirators: two scientists, two Maldivian
Women, and Chandrasekharan, who represents the Russian Commercial Space company,
who allegedly met in a hotel named Madras International Hotel along with the DIG
of Kerala Police, Raman Srivastava. Together they hatched the conspiracy to
sell away Indiaís secrets . Further, this story gets complicated with the
embellishment of several facts associated with the case.
Along with the claim
that they had met in a hotel, it was also added that the accused was setting up
a company called Cavalier Ltd to sell the ISRO Technology they had developed and
to use them for commercial purposes. It was also alleged that the scientists got
sexual favors from the two Maldivian based women in exchange for the secrets.
Put 2 and 2 together and make it 22, the Intelligence Bureau helps to conjure a
completely fictional story.
The main reason the DIG of Kerala was targeted because according to IBís story,
they had spotted someone who was wearing the same pimps as a brigadier and it
canít be a brigadier, so it has to be the DIG of police. They got hold of Raman
Srivastava, he was made a co-conspirator. By this time the wheels had begun to
move and the whole country was furious about the spy scandal. On October 22,
1994, Mariam Rasheeda was arrested. According to the story that the Intelligence
Bureau put together, she went on video to confess and make a statement in
exchange to make a deal with the police for her early acquittal.
arrested following the video confession. Consequently, Fauzia Hassan, who was
known as Rasheedaís boss and Nambi Narayananís and Sashi Kumaranís handler was
taken into custody for further questioning. On November 15, 1994, DIG Siby
Mathews of Kerala police, an obvious rival of Raman Srivastava (DIG) was
assigned by the state government to head a special investigation team looking
into the ISRO spy case. By that time the whole country coined a name for this
issue as The ISRO spy case
Kerala press by then had made a huge deal out of
this for commercial purposes and value, blew it way out of proportion
unnecessarily. A Series of leaks from the investigation followed. Further, the
police had taken two more people into custody. One, Dr. Sashi Kumaran and two,
S.K Sharma, a Bengaluru based labor contractor who was supposedly spotted with
the conspirators in a club.
The Intelligence Bureau cannot arrest an individual, it cannot go to the court,
it cannot prosecute anyone. The main functioning of the Intelligence Bureau is
to have its impressions and to share them with the prosecution agencies. Due to
which they brought in the Central Bureau of Investigation. Although, Raman
Srivastava was put under suspension without a shred of evidence.
By March 1995 The Karunakaran government had to step down and A.K Antony had
They said Karunakaran was soft on Raman Srivastava and it was a
conflict of interest and it was under his watch that awful scandal
place. On May 1, the CBI filed a closure report concluding there was nothing
they could find against Nambi and others to prosecute them. This report was
filed in the special CBI court in Kochi. A CPM-LED LDF government ordered a
re-investigation by the state police. They wanted to re-open the case which the
CBI applied for closure on.
The matter was taken to the High court, both the CBI
and IB were summoned. IB was asked to submit every shred of evidence it had on
the case. The lawyer representing the CBI and IB was the same guy, one Mr. KTS
Tulsi. He had to walk on eggshells because he didnít have the provision to throw
one agency under the bus and support the other.
Luckily, he found a diplomatic
way of putting it across by saying IB had information based on its impressions
and information from the given resources but CBI worked on evidence. Therefore,
CBIís evidence needs to be taken into consideration. The high court quashed the
case and ordered a re-investigation.
On January 13, 1996, CBI went to the Supreme Court of India against the High
Court of Kerala rejecting its investigation by ordering an investigation headed
by the Kerala Police. Simultaneously Nambi challenged the order before Division
Bench of Kerala High Court. He fell on his face as the mood in Kerala at that
point as per popular view was nasty and everybody had presumed, they were
Pakistani Spies by that time.
In 1998, the Supreme Court quashed the Kerala
Government's order to re-investigate as it went against the concept of good
governance. In 2001, Nambi Narayanan and Sashi Kumaran decided to fight back to
have their honor restored. The National Human Rights Commission of India ordered
a 10 Lakh compensation to Nambi.
The Kerala government didnít bother to pay the
said amount and hence took a stay order on the NHRCís compensation to him, but
this dint stops Nambi Narayan from fighting back. Just like every other
conspiracy case, this one also had an interesting plot of unraveling the
allegations made thereby. The six conspirators were supposed to have met at a
Hotel somewhere on 24-26 January 1994 but what was found is that nobody by that
name had checked into the hotel. Now, someone called Sashi Kumaran had checked
into the hotel, he is the guy who checked in, it turned out to be another person
by the very same name.
The chief of ISI will be thrilled to know that due to unimaginable politics and
media trial India's Missile progress has been hampered including India's GSLV
program and one of India's best scientists was compromised. Not to mention, the
cold war between India's Intelligence agencies. Speaking of which, it also
destroyed the credibility of the entire Indian Security System and this without
anybody in ISI having to do anything about it, as it is Indianís who themselves,
who had done the job for him.
As it turns out, the entire story was fictional and fake. The dates on which
they have been supposed to have met in the then Madras. The DIG of Kerala
Police, Mr. Raman Srivastava was not only wasn't there but he was actually in
Trivandrum supervising the Republic Day Rehearsals and there was sufficient
evidence to prove his innocence. Everything had started falling into place,
that's when they had received information from Interpol which said that Zuheira,
the so-called Columbo ISI agent had never even visited India during the timeline
of the case.
Lastly, the Kerala Government approached the court and took a stay. The
lasted a decade. In the end, the Kerala Government had no other
choice but to compensate for the same.
Two steps front and one step back is still one step front:
The former scientist of the Indian Space Research Organisation S. Nambi
Narayanan finally gets justice after an excruciating fight with the judiciary
and the public for more than two decades. A successful scientist having a
national reputation was compelled to undergo immense humiliation. Not just the
state and the Intelligence Bureau that concocted a fictional story, the same was
magnified by paid-media purely for creating sensational news out of nothing, but
irresponsible usage of social media as is happening today.
On November 30, 1994, Dr. Nambi Narayanan was detained and taken into custody by
the state police. He spends over 50 days in custody. In his darkest phase of
detention, Nambi Narayanan was forced to stand continuously for 30 hours without
food or water till he collapsed, all the while yelled at and insulted as a traitor , in addition to beatings on the head, neck, and torso. That meets
every textbook definition of torture
No police officer who participated in,
or had vicarious responsibility for, the torture to manufacture fake evidence to
destroy Dr. Nambi, in an attempt to use allegations as a substitute for
has been convicted of any offense yet. Dr. Nambi has been honored by
the Government of India with the Padma Bhushan, and by the Government of Kerala
with Rs 1.3 crore compensation and additional exonerations by courts. But Nambi
will never get back those lost years, not to mention his broken reputation over
the years. This is simply a case of professional death
Over the years, ISRO has had its share of mysterious deaths. Before Nambi took
charge of Indiaís nuclear program, two deaths had taken place. To cite, one, Dr.
Homi Bhabha who mysteriously died in an air crash that accidentally flew into
Mont Blanc in Switzerland and two, Dr. Vikram Sarabhai who was found dead
his guest house.
Many other scientists were also dying mysteriously for decades
more until Indiaís first professor of geopolitics, appointed by Manipal
University, connected the dots and showed how those mysteries
were not so
mysterious after all. Thereafter, there has been a lull in actual deaths. But
now, character assassination using fake allegations, which eventually leads to
professional deaths shows us its vision of a new normal.
Fake allegations and its consequences:
Section 383 of the Indian Penal Code defines extortion as:
puts any person in fear of any injury to that person or any other, and thereby
dishonestly induces the person so put in fear to deliver to any person any
property, or valuable security or anything signed or sealed which may be
converted into a valuable security, commits Ďextortioní. Professional death is
indeed grievous hurt.
Section 386 states that:
Whoever commits extortion by
putting any person in fear of death or of grievous hurt to that person or any
other, shall be punished with imprisonment of either description for a term
which may extend to ten years, and shall also be liable to fine .
even lawyers are utilized to convey the threats, while claiming that the advice
is for the scientistís own good to resign rather than face those long-drawn-out
proceedings as a result of the manufactured allegations. Thus, while there are
clear provisions in the IPC for punishing those who level fake allegations for
personal gain or other ulterior motives, otherwise described as camouflaged
extortion, those provisions are rarely applied rigorously.
- S. Nambi Narayan vs Siby Mattews & others Etc, CA No. 6637-6638, 2018.
- Trial by media vs right of a fair trial, IJTR.
- Trial by media: An International Perspective, (2011) PL October S-38.
- (1961) 3 SCR 460.
- Media trials in India, SSRN, (2014)
- Nambi Narayan Wiki, WikiBio.
- Soutik Biswas, Nambi Narayanan: The fake spy scandal that blew up a rocket
scientistís career, BBC News, Jan 27.
- Nambi Narayanan, Arun Ram, Ready To Fire How India and I Survived the ISRO
Spy Case, 2018.
- Shekar Gupta, Justice for ISROís Nambi Narayan, The Print (Aug. 13,
- Sunil Chacko, Time for Nambi protection act, TSG, August 22, 2020.
- Indian Penal Code, 1860.
Award Winning Article is Written By:
- S Tejasri, BBA LLB, 4th year, BBA LLB, 3rd year, ICFAI Law
School, ICFAI Law School, Hyderabad and
- Fasila, BBA LLB, 4th year, BBA LLB, 3rd year, ICFAI Law School,
ICFAI Law School, Hyderabad
Authentication No: SP30974835174-1-920