When Patriot reached the Bhatti Mines area on the outskirts of Delhi and asked for directions to Sanjay Colony, a lot of people were blank, as it is called ‘Pakistani Colony’ in local parlance.
The settlement is named after Sanjay Gandhi, son of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, who set up this neighbourhood in 1976. At that time, about 200 homes were constructed in what used to be a village.
The Supreme Court declared the area as a Wildlife Sanctuary under the Wildlife (Protection) Act, 1972, leading to the closure of Bhatti Mines. State support for infrastructure development was suspended. The Forest Department issued a notice under the Reserved Forest Act in 1991, which led to the benign neglect of the area.
With no rehabilitation plan in sight, over 3,000-4,000 refugees are still living here. Just 46 years since its establishment, the situation in the area is worsening. Brickwork is exposed to the elements, as houses are not plastered, sewers and gutters lie open, and roads are not paved. Water and electricity shortages, according to a few locals, continue to be the main issues.
The only saving grace used to be that criminal activity had never occurred in the area. But this state of affairs might have changed.
On the evening of 17 August, Bhag Chand, a 47-year-old labour supervisor, was arrested by Rajasthan Police from the colony. Chand was detained on suspicion of espionage for Pakistan. This incident astounded his whole family and community, who could not believe he could do anything so anti-national.
Chand was accused of having sent a total of five SIM cards via bus to an entity in Delhi.
It is alleged that he had been communicating with Abid Ahmed, an ISI agent, who had encouraged Chand’s maternal uncle to meet him and had offered to provide him with a Pakistani visa for his help. He was using a Pakistan-based WhatsApp number subscribed in his wife’s name.
In order to transmit four SIM cards to an ISI agent under a false name, Chand disguised them in packs of MDH Masala. He had received Rs 5,000 for this work, as well as an additional payment from Ahmed for other duties.
However, this was not the first time he had been summoned by the local authorities for questioning. On 12 August, at 5:30 am, after three hours of interrogation by the police, the family were asked to provide an Aadhar card to grant him bail. He was given a clean chit, as per his father, Ballumal, who moved to Sanjay Colony in 1998. He said, “The police beat my son very badly without him being found guilty.”
Patriot wanted to further interact with Ballumal, but his physical health didn’t allow him to talk.
Family in distress
According to Anita, wife of the accused, “We are attempting to call the police officials, but they are not responding. The number that the officials had provided to us is incorrect.” She continues, “Whatever the legal proceedings, they ought to be carried out, and if my husband is found guilty, then he ought to be punished…but at least let us know where he is and allow us to talk to him.”
In his absence, the family has been in a state of suspense. Anita continues, “My in-laws are aged, and they can’t visit police stations. My son has a physical impairment. Our two kids are both in school, but they chose not to attend because they are anxious about what has occurred. The only person who used to look after us was my husband, and we are now unsure of his whereabouts, she says.
Speaking on the allegations framed against her husband, Anita says, “Do you think we would have lived in such conditions with shattered roofs and these dingy rooms if my husband was a spy?”
She continues, “My older son, Sumit, 15, has a disability. If we had the money, we could have at least paid for his medical care. At the age of 80, my mother-in-law is still working outside in this terrible heat. She herds 10-15 goats, earning a pitiful 100-150 bucks every month. She leaves at 10 in the morning and returns at 5 in the evening. What kind of son would let his mother do this job if he had such good contacts and money?”
To prove her point, she fetched the electricity bill which shows an overdue amount of Rs 15,710, the last payment dating back to 2019. She repeats, “Is this the condition a spy would live in? My children go to school with torn schoolbags.”
Neighbours in solidarity
The community stands by Chand, who has lived in the neighbourhood for 20 years. Satpal, 42, avers, “I think he’s been framed. I’ve known him for all these years…I have never witnessed any suspicious activity, dubious behaviour or secret meetings. He is just like the rest of us.”
He elaborates that Chand struggles to make ends meet while attempting several occupations, usually wage labour, occasionally as a driver. Pension payments for his father have also been discontinued.
Another neighbour, Hemant, says, “Chand is like a brother to me. It’s next to impossible that he would do something like this.” He further adds that there is no one supporting or writing for him just because he’s poor and living in a refugee colony that is ignored by everyone. If it was an incident that took place in a posh residential place, everyone would’ve hyped it and helped bring the truth in the limelight.
Chand is scheduled to be produced before the Udaipur High Court in the espionage case along with two other prime suspects. Further investigation is underway.