NEW DELHI: As opposition parties mount pressure on the Indian government to come clean on the recent Tawang border incident with China in which several Indian troops were reportedly injured, some in the media have focused on the eight navy veterans who have been mysteriously languishing in prison in Qatar since August 30.

The Lok Sabha was adjourned sine die for the winter session on Friday, six days ahead of schedule, without either the China border issue being discussed or the naval officers’ fate being addressed.

“The news ought to have made headlines and the subject incessantly debated, but the incarceration of eight former Indian Navy officers in Qatar lies lost in the grey zone of bureaucracy and diplomacy,” said The Times of India on Monday.

The sister of a jailed officer had tweeted a similar call last month.

“The Indian Government need to act immediately, swiftly & walk the talk if they really care about their defence personnel as today is 69th day of the illegal solitary confinement of our senior citizen Navy Veterans (officers) in Doha (Qatar),” wrote Dr Meetu Bhargava, her message copied to the prime minister, external affairs minister and the defence minister, among others.

The Times said it was surprised by the silence. “For more than 100 days now, the decorated soldiers have been locked up in solitary confinement and the government has not told us why the Naval officers were picked up from their homes in the dead of night.

“In the age of information and the weightage the Centre gives to the armed forces, it is mysterious why there is a deafening silence surrounding the arrest of the eight officers.”

The arrests first came to light with the tweet of Dr Meetu Bhargava, sister of retired Commander Purnendu Tiwari, The Times said. He is the managing director of Dahra Global Technologies, and his company has been a service provider for the defence and security sector. He has been in Doha since 2013, training Qatar’s Navy personnel, The Times said.

India was given consular access to the Navy veterans in October, but neither New Delhi nor Doha have revea­led under what charges the officers are being held.

“What we know is disturbing. The officers are languishing in solitary confinement, unaware of why they were picked up or when they will be repatriated. The officers are allowed to speak with one member of the family once a week but it can be assumed that their liberty has been hugely curtailed. Tiwari, for example, is forced to speak with his aged, India-based mother only in English, a language she is not entirely comfortable with.”

Published in Dawn, December 24th, 2022

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