New Delhi: As the world celebrates New Year’s Eve, there is little cheer for the families of eight former Indian Navy personnel, who were detained and put in solitary confinement by authorities in Qatar this August. Their only hope is that the coming year will finally put an end to months of painful waiting.
Speaking to ThePrint, Dr Meetu Bhargava and Navdeep Gill, whose brothers — retired naval officers Commander Purnendu Tiwari and Captain Navtej Singh Gill respectively — are among the prisoners, said that their hopes rested on the government.
“I am requesting the Modi government to walk the talk and take care of our veterans who have served the country and continue to make the country proud,” Bhargava said.
On 30 August, Tiwari, Gill, and six other former naval officers, all with impeccable records of service, were picked up by Qatari intelligence authorities and incarcerated in Doha.
Adding to the intrigue was that no reason has been given and none of the detainees have been charged with any crime as of now.
All the eight worked for Dahra Global Technologies & Consulting Services, a company that was engaged in training Qatari navy personnel.
Notably, while the eight Indians are still in custody, the company’s CEO, an Omani national who had also been detained, was released just before the beginning of the FIFA Football World Cup.
Also read: Settlement ‘unlikely’, families of Indian sailors held in Nigeria for ‘oil theft’ seek early trial
‘They don’t deserve to go through this’
At the time of his detention, Commander Purnendu Tiwari (Retd) was working as managing director of Dahra Global Technologies & Consulting Services.
Tiwari had taken voluntary retirement in 2002 from the Navy and has a stellar record. In 2019, he even received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award, the country’s highest honour for overseas Indians, from then President of India Ram Nath Kovind.
“My brother is a senior citizen and has multiple medical issues. At the age of 63, he has been put in solitary confinement. I can’t even imagine what mental trauma he must be going through,” his sister Meetu Bhargava told ThePrint.
“He has spoken to his mother from jail. She is 83 and is tense about the safety of her son,” Bhargava added. “I request the government to bring back these senior veterans who are languishing in Qatari jail.”
For Navdeep Gill, his brother, Captain Navtej Singh Gill’s (Retd) arrest came as a deep shock.
“He had stopped getting my WhatsApp messages and my suspicions rose when I tried to wish him on his birthday and his phone was not reachable on 6 September. When I contacted the company, that is when I came to know he has been arrested by the Qatari security service,” Navdeep told ThePrint.
He said that his brother, now 57, had won the Sword of Honour as a cadet and was a gold medallist too while training.
“He was the navigation officer on board INS Viraat (India’s longest-serving warship, now decommissioned) and had retired in 2012. He has been in Qatar since 2016 and was the director of the company,” Navdeep said, adding that Captain Gill suffers from medical issues.
“He has served the Indian Navy till his retirement. We kindly ask the Indian government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to step in and ensure that they are repatriated. These officers don’t deserve to go through this,” he said.
What has govt said?
This week, the Ministry of External Affairs had said that India had secured “consular access” to the eight men, while earlier this month, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had asserted in Parliament that the matter was a “priority”.
“This is a very sensitive case. Their interests are foremost in our minds. Ambassadors and senior officials are in constant touch with Qatar’s government. We assure you, they are our priority,” Jaishankar had said during his address to the Rajya Sabha.
However, with few answers, family members like Bhargava and Navdeep Gill are still watching the clock.
(Edited by Asavari Singh)
Also read: There’s a fast-growing dragon in the sea. For Navy to keep up, India must tackle key hurdles