Srinagar: Over the past month, two US Congressional hearings have debated a host of issues related to Kashmir, including the communications lockdown, mass detentions, alleged human rights abuses, denial of access to foreign journalists — and one Dr Mubeen Shah.
At the first hearing, which took place on 22 October, Indian-American legislator Pramila Jayapal spoke on Shah’s detention in Kashmir and asked if the US State Department had raised the matter with New Delhi.
Jayapal was assured by Alice Wells, the Acting Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia, that the US had “explicitly raised the case of Shah” with India.
Shah was also mentioned at a 14 November hearing, this time by his cousin and human rights lawyer Yousra Fazili.
So, just who is this Dr Mubeen Shah, and why are some US lawmakers interested in his freedom?
Shah is currently lodged in Agra jail
Shah, a prominent name in Kashmir’s business community, was one of those detained after the Narendra Modi government stripped Jammu and Kashmir of its special status granted under Article 370 on 5 August.
After his detention, Shah was transferred to Agra Central Jail, where he has been lodged since, a police source said.
Shah is based out of Malaysia, where he has handicraft business, but he used to visit Kashmir, where his extended family stays, at least once a year.
He once headed Kashmir’s strongest trade body — the Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He also headed the Jammu and Kashmir Joint Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a body that represents business interests of all regions on both sides of the Line of Control.
Shah would regularly attend seminars and debates on Kashmir in India and abroad.
Police officials in Kashmir said Shah’s detention was a result of his “activities that could hamper peace in the Valley”, a charge vehemently denied by his family.
Following his detention, Shah’s family and friends in the US have reached out to American lawmakers and human rights groups to highlight his case.
“Our family and extended family members in the US have been aggressively approaching human rights groups and authorities there to take up the issue of my husband’s detention,” Shah’s wife Asifa told ThePrint over phone.
Asifa stays in the UAE with her daughter. The couple also has two sons, both settled in the US.
Shah had come to Kashmir in May from Malaysia. Although his trip was supposed to be a short one, it got extended because of the deaths of his sister-in-law and father-in-law.
“His health also started to deteriorate during the summer. He has a condition with his kidneys and was to be operated upon in the United States. But he developed an infection for which he was receiving treatment at a Srinagar hospital. We were waiting for his recovery from the infection when he was arrested. We were supposed to travel to the US,” Asifa added.
‘He is not a kid throwing stones in the streets’
At the Congressional hearing last week, his cousin, Fazili, said: “His imprisonment sends a strong message to the people of Kashmir that money, status and family mean nothing in the face of Indian capriciousness.”
Describing Shah as a voice of moderation, peace and economic progress, Fazili added, “My cousin was taken in a midnight raid. He is not a politician, he is not a dissident, he is not a freedom fighter, he is not even a kid throwing stones in the streets, he is just a businessman. His life’s focus has been to bring economic opportunity to Kashmir.”
She also said Shah’s wife had filed a petition in the Supreme Court over his detention. The court has asked the J&K administration to respond to the plea.
Shoaib Shadad, Shah’s brother-in-law in Kashmir, said he had shifted his handicraft businesses to Kuala Lumpur, where he has been staying for over a decade.
“We don’t know why he was detained. He would visit his extended family in Kashmir. This year, too, he visited. His visit got lengthened because of the tragedies the family faced,” Shadad said.
Sheikh Ashiq, president of Kashmir Chamber Of Commerce and Industry, said Shah might have been detained because of his political views.
“We were surprised, too, when we heard that he had been detained. We are still not sure why, though. Maybe because of his opinions or political views. He would speak at seminars and debates, but he was not as active as before,” Ashiq said.