Video Editor: Ashish MacCune
When Mumbai couple Mohammad Shareeq and Oniba Qureshi packed their bags for an ‘all expense covered’ second honeymoon in July 2019, they had no idea that they were being duped into acting as drug mules. On arriving in Qatar, the couple were caught carrying 4.1 kilograms of Hashish and immediately arrested by the drug enforcement authorities.
The unsuspecting couple were set up by their own relative, Shareeq’s aunt Tabassum. Tabassum allegedly planned the whole operation, bought them a bag and hid a package containing drugs in it. When asked about the contents, she lied about it and claimed it was tobacco.
Remembering the day her daughter and son-in-law left for their trip, Oniba’s mother Parveen recalls, “The day they were supposed to leave, she gave them a bag. She sent a bag through her daughter and asked them to take this bag along with them. They said they already had a bag, but she still asked them to take it. She said that there was tobacco in the bag.”
She further added:
“They asked her if it was safe to carry this. She said nothing will happen. She gave my son-in-law her own daughter Tanaaz’s example, saying even she had gone recently, and nothing happened to her. She asked him to just give the bag to the concerned person.”Parveen Qureshi, Oniba’s Mother
Convicted for carrying the contraband, the couple was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment. Oniba, who was three months pregnant at the time of arrest, delivered a baby girl in February 2020, while in custody. An emotional Parveen sobbed as she recollected how tough the pregnancy was on her daughter, who was left with no one by her side as she languished in jail the whole time.
“While she was pregnant, we used to feel so sad whenever she told us about how she was feeling. She used to tell us what was happening to her and we used to try to console her saying, “This happens, don’t worry”. She struggled through it all alone. We used to try to motivate her and ask her not to worry. What do I tell you? Only we know what we went through at that moment,” said Parveen.
The anxiety only compounded when Oniba tested positive for COVID-19 soon after she delivered her baby.
Appeals to PMO, EAM, NCB
Refusing to give up, Oniba and Shareeq’s families have appealed to every single authority who could help bring their children back to India. Stacking up proof such as documents and audio recordings that prove the couple’s innocence, the families have approached the Prime Minister’s Office, Ministry of External Affairs and even the Narcotic Control Bureau.
“My husband, Oniba’s father, said that he would send a letter to the prime minister. We asked our children to make recordings of our proof and took Shareeq’s father’s complaint and copies of Visa, tickets and hotel that Tabassum that booked and made a file. We wanted to show this to the PM to make him understand that they were being cheated,” said Parveen.
The NCB has meanwhile, arrested Tabassum and her accomplices under the NDPS Act. The arrests have led to the busting of a huge drug syndicate from across the country.
“NCB busted a racket or a syndicate which is involved in drug trafficking. It is a part of a bigger syndicate by the name of Kasargode, infamous Kasargode network. This network procured Hashish, Charas and other contraband from various part and the destination is Gulf countries. The modus operandi on conducting these operations is either with the knowledge or without the knowledge (of the person). In this case, it was without the knowledge of the concerned persons,” said Deputy Director of NCB, KPS Malhotra.
He further added that raising the matter though diplomatic channels is the next course of action.
“Now, the next plan of action as per NCB’s Director General Mr Rakesh Asthana is that we have activated the diplomatic channels and communication with Qatar authorities. The target is to prove in Qatar court that they were not having a conscious position of these drugs and they were duped by this syndicate to get the drugs transported through them.”KPS Malhotra, Deputy Director, NCB
Oniba’s family now pin all their hopes on the NCB and the government while preparing to fight for their children for as long as it takes.