Punjab's border villages have always been used by intelligence agencies as a recruiting ground for small time spies who are used as couriers and messengers. But many of them who made the choice for financial security end up right where they started.
The sleepy border town of Dadwan in Punjab's Gurdaspur district has been abuzz with excitement for the last 2 weeks--and for women like Seema and Veena it has also brought hope.
Bhola, a villager who has been in a Pakistani jail for the last 2- years has just been released. And although fear kept him from speaking to NDTV, he brought back with him information for several other families here whose men-folk have been missing for years. Many of whom they now know are in Pakistani jails.
But Tej Pal's family who's son Satpal went missing during the Kargil operation had already received news. In mid April he learnt that his son died in a Pakistani jail.
Jeeto, Satpal's wife told us, "We told them that we are poor people who make a living by washing utensils and that we cannot bring the body back on our own expenditure. They said don't worry we will bring it back. We use to keep standing at the door crying, waiting to see when they would bring it back"
Some like Chanan Masih in the nearby Khunda village however at least lived to tell their story. Masih spent 15-years in Pakistani jails in Sialkot, Multan and Lahore, coming back to India to find that both his father and wife had died.
In the years he was away they had not received the money the government had promised they would provide--as part of the deal of his going across the border. Today he earns a paltry 40-50 rupees a day as a rickshaw puller.
Chanan Masih told us, "If they can do things for Kargil martyrs then we are even greater than that. The kind of danger that we undertake they do not. All ministers promise but never do a thing."
Stories such as these of families trying to find any trace of their relatives are common in this belt of Punjab, which borders Pakistan. But there are many from other parts of the country who also have a some what similar tale to tell.
For Balwan Singh from Jammu and Kashmir's Kathua area, his most precious belongings fit in one plastic packet. Singh also spent a decade in a Pakistani jail and since he was released in 1998 has been trying to make ends meet. In desperation he travelled to Delhi without a ticket to file a petition in the High Court.
Balwan Singh said, "Till today they have been saying we have sent your case to Delhi. We are doing this we are doing that. We are making arrangements for the compensation of one lakh per year as was promised to you. Till now I have got nothing."
In the struggle for justice he now faces Balwan Singh may draw inspiration from Roop Lal who returned to India in 2000 after spending 26-years in a Pakistani jail. Denied any acknowledgement by the government, the Delhi High Court came to his rescue ordering the government to give him 7.5 lakh along with a permit for a petrol pump.
But clearly for many of these people living in acute poverty who believe that life in India would improve--if they crossed the border the experience may not be worth the risks.
Published in NDTV