Families Of 39 Killed In Iraq Found About The Deaths On TV, Question Swaraj On False Hopes
March 20th, 2018 / 7:00 PM
Four years ago on 11 June 2014, 40 Indian construction workers were abducted by the Islamic State (ISIS) from Mosul, Iraq. Over a month later, Harjit Masih, managed to escape and returned to India. Since then, he had been maintaining that his 39 fellow captives were killed by the terrorist group.
However, the government kept giving false hopes to their families.
“All the 39 Indians held hostage in Iraq by Islamic State militants for more than a year are “alive”, said Sushma Swaraj in 2015.
No question that the Govt had to ensure adequate proof before declaring the 39 Indians dead in Iraq.
Question is, why give false hope like this when there was overwhelming evidence from the start about the tragic incident. pic.twitter.com/n7GuwvHiHn
— Manu Pubby (@manupubby) March 20, 2018
“The information we have so far is that they are alive because we have no other information to prove that they are not alive,” said External Affairs Ministry spokesperson Gopal Baglay in 2017.
At other instances, Swaraj also changed her stance to “we cannot know for sure if they are dead or alive,” while lone survivor Masih kept reiterating that all the 39 were killed on the fourth day of their capture. He alleged to have seen all of them being shot dead by the militants.
Masih was arrested in March 2016 and locked up in Gurdaspur Central Jail on government claims that he was an “illegal agent” involved in “trafficking of poor and innocent persons” from different districts of Punjab (24 of the 39 abducted were from Punjab).
A lawyer familiar with the case against Masih had termed it weak. “How can there be a case of trafficking against him when all these people whose families made the complaint received money from their sons or husbands? Trafficked people don’t get salaries. Masih was himself a paid worker in Iraq. It was the government of India that brought him back. If he is an offender, then why did the government keep him in Delhi and other places under its “protection” for so many months?” said the lawyer, who is at the Batala district courts, reported The Indian Express.
Masih’s statements were too brutal a truth for the families of the victims, some of whom claimed that he was lying and was paid money to get the men visas and jobs abroad.
It didn’t help Masih’s case that he gave various versions of his escape. He was kept hidden by the government and was only allowed to talk to his family occasionally. Swaraj told the Parliament that he was being kept in protective custody owing to the threat he faced from ISIS. A friend of Masih said that the government informed that his life was under threat from the victims’ families.
The Centre kept cutting him off as he repeated his story, causing the families to believe Swaraj more as she kept meeting with them and giving them assurances.
Families of the 39 victims found out about their deaths on TV
Nothing Govt of India says can make up for the sheer heartlessness displayed today. Using Parliament as an excuse for the families of 39 dead Indians having to learn of their heartbreaking loss from TV channels is unpardonable.
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) March 20, 2018
The victims’ families were unable to come to terms with what they heard on television channels.
“They fooled us. We held almost 13 meetings with Swaraj, many times with (union minister) Harsimrat Kaur Badal accompanying us. Every time, she told us that our men are safe. They kept saying they had proof that the Indians were alive. Now they say their bodies have been found. So what proof were they talking about then?” said Parvinder to ThePrint. His brother and two brothers-in-laws were among those missing.
Madan Lal, another one of the missing, had left for Mosul in 2013. His older brother Deepak told Firstpost that he had been to Delhi thrice since 2014 and alleged that the External Affairs ministry had been misleading him on his brother’s whereabouts.
“We demand from the government to provide us DNA reports. The issue is being politicised. We had been running from pillar to post since last four years and now we’re being told via TV that we lost one of our own,” Gurpinder Kaur, sister of one of the victim’s, Manjinder Singh told ANI.
EAM Swaraj responded to claims that the government kept facts hidden by saying: “I didn’t keep anybody in dark but there is a difference between a government and an individual. Harjeet Singh (the lone survivor amid the Indians in Mosul) was a person and could have said anything. As a government, officiating his version of events merited some responsibility. We believed in putting in efforts to first ascertain that there is absolutely no scope that our people could be alive, only then we channeled our energies in looking for bodies.”
Written by : Pooja Chaudhuri
Edited by : Poorbita Bagchi