From the general civilian perspective, a spy or a covert operative seems like an adventurous life full of glamour. But what is the reality of being a Spy? To find out we take a look at the stories of some of the real-life Indian spies.
How different are Spies in real life compared to how they are portrayed in popular media?
To start with, real-life spies are nothing similar compared to their portrayal in popular media such as films and web series. The life of a real-life spy is not at all glamorous, they are not provided with any high-tech gadgets, weapons, or fast cars as has usually been depicted in movies such as James Bond or Tiger Zinda Hai. Most of the people employed in espionage operations are only provided with a rudimentary set of equipment such as a camera, voice recorder, or a mobile phone in most cases.
Also, most of the covert operatives are low-key agents who mostly act as couriers and smugglers responsible for smuggling classified documents, schematics, and intel out of the country they are deployed in. As such most of these Low Key operatives are common citizens like us with basic education and humble socio-economic background which is in sharp contrast to the “reel” spies who are often shown to be well educated, smart, skilled in both socializing and womanizing.
Take the story of Vinod Sawhney who was a small-time Taxi driver in Jammu before being employed by the Government to act as a spy in Pakistan. Vinod traveled to Pakistan in 1977 and was caught within a year of his deployment. He was subject to intense torture and interrogation and spent about 11 years in Pakistan prison before being released in 1988.
Real-life spies also do not receive extensive support from the Government in most cases as shown in the movies. Unlike James Bond or Family Man’s Srikant Tiwari, our real-life spies are seldom recognized much less rewarded for their gallantry and bravery in risking their lives for gathering valuable intel. The majority of the low-key operatives get caught and in such cases are disowned by the government. Even people like Vinod Sawhney who do manage to return to India after being caught receive little to no assistance from the government.
There have been many protests by these ex-spies, sleuths, and their family members who have demanded adequate compensation, rehabilitation, and basic facilities for their families for having risked their lives to keep the country safe. Most of the time they have received little to no attention from the top-level handlers. In order to look out for the welfare of these ex-spies and their families, Vinod Sawhney has established the Jammu Ex-Sleuths Association.
It is also worth mentioning that the life spies lead a much darker life than is shown in the movies. Unlike movies these Spies barely make any miraculous “Houdini” type escapes as is depicted in the movies. Like Vinod, there are others who are sent with very little experience and get caught eventually. While some like Vinod, Ramraj, and Gurbaksh are lucky enough to return back to the country. Some like Om Prakash disappear without a trace. Kamal Kumar son of Om Prakash is waiting for his father’s return as Om Prakash’s whereabouts remain unknown to this day.
There are some other popular names in this list such as Ravindra Kaushik a theater artist who infiltrated the country and got enlisted as well promoted to the rank of Major in Pakistan. The former PM had named him as “The Black Tiger” as he kept passing valuable classified data to India before being caught in 1985 and eventually dying in 2001 while in prison. However, not all spies get caught or die while spying on a foreign soul. For example, Sehmat Khan smuggled classified information regarding Pakistan’s plan to sink Indian aircraft carrier INS Viraat during the 1971 Indo-Pak war and successfully managed to come back to India. Meghna Gulzar’s 2018 movie Raazi was based on her life.
Ajit Doval the current National Security Advisor also has a successful history of espionage and is termed as the James Bond of India. He was instrumental in infiltrating the Khalistani ranks during Operation Black Thunder posing as a Pakistan Agent to get information about the Khalistani militants during the siege of the Golden Temple. The upcoming movie – Bell Bottom is said to be inspired by Doval’s feat in a hostage crisis with Akshay Kumar reportedly playing Doval’s character.
Arunava Bhattacharya, DNI: