Srinagar: Early on August 5 last year, before the announcement of the scrapping of Jammu and Kashmir’s special status, Kashmir police personnel climbed the wall of Shakeel Qalander’s residence in Srinagar’s Kanitar area.
They barged into his house. They were there to take him away.
On that night, the 58-year-old industrialist and noted civil society member was taken to Srinagar’s Central Jail where he continues to be in detention to this day.
According to his family, they were told by the local police that he’ll be taken to SKICC, which has been functioning as a detention centre for political prisoners since August 5, and kept there under “preventive detention” for a few days.
However, Qalander was instead shifted to Srinagar’s Central Jail.
“I have been given to understand that you and your associates are about to organise processions and such meetings which are likely to deteriorate the law and order situation,” read a magistrate’s order against Qalander who was detained under Section 107/151, which cite preventive measures, according to a report in The Hindu.
“Nobody had even imagined that they will detain respected citizens and civil society members like my father for such a long period and that too under sections that were even not even remotely connected to their activities,” said Qalander’s son, Ahtisham, an IIT Roorkee graduate, who has had to move back from Delhi to be with his family in Srinagar.
“In the past six months, we have been going from pillar to post and have approached the local administration and police officials to urge them to release him but they have not done anything to release him yet,” said Ahtisham, adding that the family didn’t want to move court at this time.
“It was a policy decision by the government to continue his detention. Otherwise there was no threat from him. Police officials also failed to tell us what this threat was,” he said.
Qalander ran a well-known interior decorating and furnishing business. He was the former president of the Federation of Chamber of Industries Kashmir (FCIK). As a member of civil society group Kashmir Centre for Social and Developmental Studies (KCSDS), he would often speak at public functions organised by various other civil society groups on economic and social issues. He would also participate in debates on television and radio programmes. He wrote columns on J&K’s economy and industries for local newspapers as well.
“In 2000, my father was also given a national award by the then Prime Minister and BJP leader Atal Bihari Vajpayee for his achievements in small scale industry at a function held in New Delhi,” said Ahtisham.
Because of his efforts to promote entrepreneurship in the state, Ahtisham said his father’s name had been recommended by the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in 2010 and he was made a member of the committee headed by eminent economist C. Rangarajan which drafted several scholarship and entrepreneurship schemes for students and unemployed youth of Jammu and Kashmir.
Ahtisham said his father has been part of major commissions on economy and industries in Jammu and Kashmir from 2014. Qalander was also on the board of directors in State Financial Corporation (SFC) which he helped revive over the years.
As a respected and concerned civil society member and industrialist his interests were only restricted to the issues of economic and industrial growth in Jammu and Kashmir, Ahtisham said.
“He was well read and well informed on economic and industrial issues because of which he was made member of various committees and his views were sought by the media,” he said. “All his opinions in public fora and media were based on facts and figures.”
Ahtisham said his father always worked towards the welfare of the local industries as president of FCIK. Meeting him in prison, he said, is humiliating and enforces the impression that they are “meeting a convicted criminal.”
“It is very difficult for my father to cope with his continued detention. He tells us that we should not be ashamed as he has done nothing wrong,” he said.
Majid Maqbool is a journalist and editor based in Srinagar.