‘He believed in Sufism; he cannot take any extreme step’
Srinagar: On the evening of February 9, Shoaib Ahmad Kataria, 16, received a text message on his mobile from his elder brother, Suhail Aijaz Kataria, 20, while he was engaged in an informal conversation with five other members of his family.
“My mobile phone has some problem. I’m going to drop it in a service centre. It would take two or four days to be repaired. Till then, my number will remain switched off,” the terse message sent by Suhail read.
Little did Shoaib know that he may be hearing from his brother for the last time. Suhail went missing under mysterious circumstances from his hostel room on the same evening.
Suhail was in Bhubaneswar, Orissa, studying for an MBBS degree at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) since 2016.
Shoaib, a resident of Kupwara, told Kashmir Reader that the family waited for Suhail’s call since that day. Their father, Aijaz Ahmad Kataria, who at the time was in Jammu for some official work, also began trying to establish contact with his elder son. “Once papa returned home on February 16, he called Suhail again but his number was switched off,” Shoaib said.
Aijaz felt suspicious about Suhail as he had never done such a thing before. “He called one of his college friends and asked about Suhail’s whereabouts,” Shoaib said. “His friend said he had not met Suhail for a few days and once he reaches college, he will give a call.”
The next day, February 17, Suhail’s friend called Aijaz. He said he had looked for Suhail but he was not coming to college for more than a week.
“His friend said that Suhail had told his classmates that he was going to attend the marriage of a friend in Chandigarh,” Shoaib told Kashmir Reader, adding that after hearing this, the family waited for another day hoping that Suhail may call.
The mysterious disappearance, Shoaib said, prompted Aijaz to leave for Orissa on February 19. Aijaz went to Suhail’s room and asked about in the college, but failed to find his son. “Papa then went to the college authorities and asked about Suhail,” he said. “The college authorities told papa that Suhail had taken leave till 17th February.”
Suhail, according to his family, opted for MBBS of his own and cracked the difficult entrance tests easily. “He studied medical science in Class 12 and went on to pursue MBBS,” Shoaib said.
Aijaz told Kashmir Reader that Suhail had contacted him on February 6, asking to credit some cash into his bank account. Aijaz said he did so the very next day. “Since then, I don’t know where he is,” Aijaz said.
Aijaz said he came to know from the college authorities that Suhail had failed in two subjects last year. He said that Suhail never mentioned this to him and he may have been depressed because of it. “It did not seem that he was stressed, nor did he tell me,” Aijaz said. “Suhail had failed in two papers but he had cleared those in the supplementary examinations.”
Aijaz said that after reaching Bhubaneswar, he went to the area’s police station to file a missing report. There he was informed that the college authorities had already filed a complaint.
The Orissa Police, including Bhubaneswar’s Deputy Commissioner of Police Sri Satyabrata Bhoi, had earlier told Kashmir Reader that a note was recovered from Suhail’s room which led police to believe that he may have been upset with studies. Bhoi said that police had traced Suhail’s phone records which showed that he had gone to Kolkata where his phone became switched off.
Suhail’s sudden disappearance is being investigated by the police of three states: Orissa, West Bengal and Jammu and Kashmir. Certain news reports claim that India’s top investigative agencies, the National Investigating Agency (NIA) and the Intelligence Bureau (IB), have also started investigating the case in the wake of a PhD scholar at Aligarh Muslim University, Manan Wani, joining militant ranks.
Aijaz said he is hoping that Suhail returns as soon as possible, as everyone is tense at home. He said that Suhail cannot take such an extreme step of joining militant ranks as he believed in Sufism. “Everyone at Kupwara knows Suhail believes in Sufism,” he said. “He was interested in literature and had written dozens of poems.”
Shoaib said his brother never used to go outside without him, whenever he returned from Bhubaneswar. “We both used to go together to meet our relatives, and at home we played cricket together… I hardly remember a day when he went outside without me.”
Kashmir Reader contacted Orissa Police to know the developments in the case, but they did not respond to calls from this reporter. On Tuesday, a New Delhi-based news agency reported that Orissa Police have started investigating whether Suhail had contacts with any radical groups.