It is a homecoming for Odisha’s Birju Kulu. The tribal man, who spent 20 years in Lahore jail on suspicion of being a spy, is all set to return home this month. Around two decades ago, Kulu trespassed into Pakistani territory.

Almost 24 years ago, forty-five-year-old Birju Kulu of Jangatoli village in Sundargarh district was found missing under mysterious circumstances. He was then working in a hotel in Ranchi, Jharkhand and was said to mentally unstable. Back then, the family did not file a report with the police.

“No one knows for sure how he reached Pakistan. But he seems to have somehow reached Amritsar and from there wandered off the border. He was caught by Pakistan authorities and treated as a prisoner of war. The family did not have any inkling of him till he was handed over to Indian authorities at the border on October 26 as per the usual practice of handing over of such prisoners who are not involved in any criminal activities,” said Sundargarh’s SP Sagarika Nath.

The SP said last week she received a call from ministry of external affairs regarding Kulu’s release and was asked to verify his residential address. He had given his Sundargarh address to the Pakistani authorities.

Kulu tested COVID-19 positive and is currently undergoing treatment in Amritsar. “Once he is discharged from the hospital, we would make arrangements to bring him back to his village,” said additional district magistrate of Sundargarh, Biswajit Mohapatra.

While Kulu’s sisters and uncles are alive, his parents are no more. His sister spoke to him over video call.