At the American Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) Original Headquarters Building lobby in Langley, Virginia, a memorial wall with 102 stars stands testimony to the sacrifices of those officers who made the ultimate sacrifice.
Above the stars is a simple inscription: “In honour of those members of the Central Intelligence Agency who gave their lives in the service of the country.” While 63 officers are named in a book kept right below the wall, the remaining 39 are not identified as their identities are top secret.
Yet, the families of the officers are cared for. For instance, in 2011, the CIA funded the education of 26 children of such families to the tune of more than half a million dollars. A separate foundation was set up after 2001 to support the families of the spies killed in action.
India, too, needs to acknowledge its spies even if not publically, and support their families and not just make an exception in the case of Sarabjit Singh. The crocodile tears of the government seem to be a result of media pressure and public outrage.
When someone signs up for the intelligence service, he or she is aware of the dangers associated with the profession. Imprisonment, torture and even death are expected. While officially any government would want to distance itself from a spy caught in enemy territory, it is also important that support for the families continues. Not only because the family suffers in silence, but to also encourage new recruits to the service.
Spies are an integral part of any nation’s statecraft, important cogs in the wheel. India must treat the Sarabjit issue as a test case for its humanitarian side. Only then will the true character of the Indian state emerge.