Fauziyya Hassan, one of the two Maldivian women who were arrested, jailed, and later exonerated in Kerala’s sensational 1994 ISRO espionage case involving scientist Nambi Narayanan, died in Colombo in Sri Lanka on Wednesday, 31 August.
She was 80 and reportedly suffered a cardiac arrest.
The second accused in the case that shook Kerala politics for over two decades, Hassan was arrested and jailed, along with Mariam Rasheeda, for over three years — from November 1994 to December 1997 — for her supposed role in the much-hyped spy case.
In her native Maldives, she was a talented actress with a career in cinema and television for over 35 years. Hassan was an officer with the National Film Censor Board of Maldives at the time of her retirement.
Exonerated by India’s Supreme Court, Hassan had two unfulfilled dreams till death knocked on her doors, according to journalists from Kerala who were in touch with her.
Fauziyya’s unfulfilled dreams
First, her petition seeking action against the Kerala Police and the Union government’s Intelligence Bureau (IB) is still pending with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights.
Second, the petition she filed along with co-accused Mariam Rasheeda in India’s Supreme Court seeking ₹2 crore each as damages from 18 investigating officials who cooked up the spy case against them, is also pending.
Hassan, who started her career as a clerk with the Maldives’ Ministry of External Affairs, became a household name in Kerala after her arrest on espionage charges on 11 November, 1994, along with Rasheeda. The IB and the Kerala Police accused them and ISRO engineers of spying and passing on crucial rocket technology to Pakistan.
ISRO scientists Nambi Narayanan and Sashi Kumar were also arrested in the case, and the prosecution alleged that they had been involved in espionage after receiving funds from a Malaysian banker.
While the Kerala government paid ₹1.3 crore as compensation to Nambi Narayanan following a Supreme Court order in 2020, the requests of others are yet to be considered.
‘Never knew Nambi Narayanan’
In an exclusive interview with a reporter of Malayala Manorama who visited the Maldives in 2017, Hassan said that she never knew Nambi Narayanan till she was arrested in the sensational case.
She added that she named Nambi as she was unable to withstand the torture by Kerala police and IB.
She said she saw Nambi Narayanan for the first time in police custody while she never saw Kerala-cadre IPS officer Raman Srivastava, who was also under investigation.
She said in the interview that she agreed to say whatever the IB and police wanted her to after they brought her then 14-year-old daughter before her and threatened to rape her.
After her exoneration, Hassan filed cases against the investigation team for allegations ranging from criminal conspiracy, kidnapping, and fabrication of evidence.
In the petition before Supreme Court seeking compensation, she called it a fake, fabricated, false case. She alleged that she was subjected to mental and physical torture inside and outside the prison for over three years. Besides the spy case, police slapped a false case of visa overstay on her.
‘Sole witness of Rasheeda’s harassment’
Hassan said she was the only witness to the sexual harassment suffered by Rasheeda at the hands of a senior investigating police officer on 13 October, 1994, at her room in Hotel Samrat in Thiruvananthapuram. She claimed the officer implicated her in the spy case only to silence her as a witness to the harassment. However, she said she faced no sexual harassment at any point since her arrest.
In a telephonic interview with The Hindu in September 2021, Hassan said she hoped that the CBI would deliver her much-delayed justice in the case.
“It was the CBI that saved me from the illegal detention in the ISRO case. I have full faith in the agency and will share with them all the information I have with me in the case,” Hassan said in that interview.
After leaving India, Hassan chose Sri Lanka to spend the rest of her life with her daughter and her family.
Though she hoped CBI officials would meet her in Sri Lanka to take her statement in the framing case, nothing happened till her death. The CBI cited the cancellation of international flights following the Covid-19 pandemic-induced lockdown as the reason for not reaching Colombo and recording her statement.
‘Will never travel to India’
Until her death, Hassan maintained that neither she nor her family would travel to India in connection with the cases, though she had no fear of being arrested again.
Of the three years she spent in Kerala jails, the first year was without a trial as the police arrested her invoking the National Security Act. The Kerala Police accused her of overstaying in the country to coordinate espionage activities.
In 2008, Hassan permitted a Kerala-based director to make a movie on her. But the project did not take off.
However, a film on Nambi Narayanan, titled Rocketry, became an average-grosser last month.
The spy case had a political fallout, too, with a sizeable section in the then ruling Congress targeting Chief Minister K Karunakaran over the issue, eventually forcing his resignation. Karunakaran is no more.