NEW DELHI: Being forced to speak to his 83-year-old mother in English, who does not understand the language, stuck in solitary confinement for 70 days, and wondering why he was being detained and when the ordeal would end, is how the decorated 63-year-Indian Navy veteran, Commander Purnendu Tiwari, is spending his time at a detention centre in Doha, Qatar.
Tiwari, who is the managing director of the Dahra Global Technologies and Consultancy, which trains Doha defence personnel, was taken into illegal detention by the personnel of the Qatar Interior Ministry on the night of 30 August, along with seven other employees, all Indian nationals.
The Qatar government has not made the reasons for their arrest public, despite restricting their liberty and freedom more than 70 days ago. Since then, the website of the Dahra company, too, has become inoperative, leading to speculation whether the eight Indians were being kept in custody by the Qatar government on behalf of a private entity or a business competitor.
Not to be left out, the ISI-backed Pakistani disinformation campaign has come up with multiple “news articles” stating that the eight men were spying for Israel and hence have been arrested. Dahra was providing training to the Qatar navy and its officials, including Tiwari, were respected faces of the 7.5 lakh Indian diaspora and were well-known to the people in the government machinery in Doha.
In January 2019, the then President of India, Ram Nath Kovind conferred the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman to Tiwari who became the first Indian Armed Forces personnel to be awarded this highest honour meant for NRIs/PIOs. The award was given in recognition of his contribution towards capacity building for the Qatar Emiri Naval Forces, thereby promoting India-Qatar bilateral cooperation, the citation stated.
Tiwari served in the Indian Navy from 1982 to 2002, during which he also commanded Indian naval ships. Later, after retiring, he played an instrumental role in setting up a world-class training infrastructure for the Qatar Emiri Naval Force and conducting the training of naval officers while serving at Dahra.
It was only after 30 days, on 30 September, that the officials of the Doha Ministry of Interior allowed Tiwari to speak to his mother for the first time after his detention, that too for a few minutes. Tiwari was not allowed to talk to his mother, who stays in Bhopal, in Hindi as the Qatari officials who stood by him, when he called, wanted to hear what he was communicating to his mother and hence they asked him to converse only in English and not in Hindi.
The other officers being detained are (all retired from Indian Navy) Commander Navtej Singh Gill, Commander Birendra Kumar Verma, Commander Sugunakar Pakala, Commander Sanjay Gupta, Commander Amit Nagpal, Captain Saurab Vasisht and Ragesh Gopakumar.
While the detainees, during their few minutes of call with their worried family members, have not said anything that suggests they were being subjected to physical torture, indications are, they were being mentally harassed in detention by Qatari officials.
According to Tiwari’s family members, he had last come to India in July, and after spending 10 days in Bhopal, had gone back to his company, which he co-owns along with an individual who is based in Oman and has retired from the Royal Air Force of Oman. “He would speak to his family members at least once a week and when for two weeks he did not call, we got worried and started calling everyone we knew in Doha. It was after a lot of effort that we got to know that on 20 September he was picked up by the police on the night of 30 August, without any reason being given. When he called for the first time on 30 September, only then he realised that seven of his colleagues too had been taken into custody along with him, as he told us that he was the only one taken into detention and he was being kept alone. We asked him whether they had told him why they arrested him, and he said he too was seeking the answer to that question. Whenever he calls, he asks us to do whatever we can do to ensure he is released,” a close family member of Tiwari told The Sunday Guardian.
The family members are using all their ties to reach out to political leaders to seek the release of these men. Some of them have met Vellamvelly Muraleedharan, Union Minister of State for External Affairs, who has assured them that the government will do its best to bring the eight men back soon.
The Sunday Guardian reached out to the Prime Minister’s Office of the Government of Qatar, seeking responses to the queries as to under what charges have the eight Indians been arrested, have been formally charged and what is the next legal process in this entire case. Despite the email being read multiple times, the Qatar government, which is hosting the FIFA World Cup, which starts on 20 November in which nationals from more than 150 countries are expected to arrive, chose not to respond to this newspaper’s queries.
A similar approach was adopted by the Qatari Interior Minister under whose custody the eight Indians are. Family members of the eight men claimed that the attitude of the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), India, has been “lackadaisical” so far. The MEA, according to them, took notice of the incident, that too after more than 50 days of them being in detention, only after one of the family members tweeted to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The Indian ambassador to Doha, Deepak Mittal, a 1998 batch Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer, who was appointed to the place in April 2020, did not respond to The Sunday Guardian’s queries seeking under what charges the men had been taken into custody and whether they had been presented before a court. One of the relatives of the eight Indians told The Sunday Guardian that Mittal’s response to their pleas was “lukewarm” so far.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) spokesperson earlier last week, while responding to queries on what steps Government of India was taking to secure the release of the eight Navy veterans, said that the ministry was aware of the detention. “We are aware of the detention of the eight Indian nationals who we understand were working for a private company in Qatar… We have requested another round of consular access and we are following up with Qatari authorities,” spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said. As per MEA sources, the Qatari government has given consular access to them on 3 October.
“To be honest, the MEA officials are not showing any concern. Maybe they are busy with other important issues. But we cannot leave our family members in the hands of fate. We will come to Delhi and try to meet Prime Minister Narendra Modi, in whose tenure the ties between the two countries have grown close, and request him to intervene personally,” a family member of one detainee said.