Amritsar: Family members grieve by a portrait of one of the 39 Indian workers killed in Iraq by ISIS. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in Rajya Sabha stated that the 39 bodies exhumed from a mount in Badoosh in Iraq have been identified. Photo: PTI
After four long years of hope for the families of the Indian construction workers kidnapped by the Islamic State (ISIS) in 2014 from Iraq's city of Mosul, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday told Parliament that all 39 of them had been killed and buried in a mass grave. The revelation set off a row with the Opposition, which accused the Narendra Modi government at the Centre of being insensitive in noting informing the victims' kin first. Swaraj's suo motu statement on the fate of the kidnapped Indian workers confirmed the worst fears of the kidnapped Indians' families after keeping alive hopes of their survival for four years.
The revelation would have come as a shock to the families and kin of the 39 deceased workers abducted in Iraq since Swaraj had earlier made statements, including one on July 22, 2017 in the Lok Sabha, that "as per the latest information from multiple third-party sources, they are all safe".
The government's treatment of the matter was criticised by the families of the deceased, as well as by the Opposition. The Congress described the Modi government as "heartless" for misleading the country over the deaths of the 39 Indians in Iraq and demanded that Swaraj apologise to the families. The grieving families, for their part, have one question to ask the Modi government: Why did you keep us in the dark for so long?
Amid criticism and questions being raised over the government's treatment of the matter, Swaraj held a press conference and defended the Centre's handling of the issue, saying that the government could not declare a person dead without a concrete proof. The external affairs minister added that it was her duty to first inform Parliament about their deaths. Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed grief over the death of the 39 Indians and said that every citizen was grieving with those who lost their loved ones in Mosul.
Minister of State for External Affairs V K Singh said that it might take up to 10 days to bring back the mortal remains of all the 39 Indians killed in Iraq because there were legal processes involved. The bodies of the deceased which were exhumed from a mass grave in Iraq's Badosh would be handed over to their relatives after being brought back to India on a special plane.
The victims -- 27 from Punjab, four from Himachal Pradesh, six from Bihar, and two from West Bengal -- were construction workers employed by an Iraqi company in Mosul. The victims were taken hostage when the Islamic State took control of the second-largest city in Iraq. They were trying to leave Mosul when they were abducted.
Here are the top 10 developments around the Iraq tragedy that has claimed the lives of 39 Indians abducted by the terrorist organisation ISIS in 2014:
1) Mosul killings : Nitish assures help to affected families
Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has condemned the killing of 39 Indians in Iraq, six of whom were from the state.
Terming the killings as "dastardly", he said the entire state stood in solidarity with the family members of the six persons killed in Mosul, an official release said.
Kumar assured that all help would be provided by the state government to the bereaved families, the release said.
2) The mortal remains of 39 Indians killed in Iraq's Mosul will not be coming back to India on Wednesday, the sources have said.
"Mortal remains of Indians killed in Mosul are not coming back to India today. We will share as and when details are worked out," the sources said while debunking speculations on the social media that the mortal remains of the people killed by the Islamic State (IS) in Mosul would be arriving today.
3) Kin of deceased demands DNA reports: A relative of one of the 39 Indians killed by ISIS in Iraq's Mosul has demanded that the DNA test reports of his deceased brother be handed over to his family, news agency ANI reported. "We demand that reports of the DNA test be given to us," said Malkit Ram, brother of Saganandlal.
Malkit said that his brother went to Iraq in 2012 to work as a carpenter. "We had been asking Ministry of External Affairs for proof of him being alive or dead," he added.
4) Families of Mosul victims told to go to airport:
Families of Mosul victims Parvinder Kumar and Jasbir Singh told news agencies today that the SSP and DC had asked them to reach the Amritsar Airport at 10:00 am to receive the mortal remains of their relatives. However, they added that they were yet to receive any information. "We have been waiting for 2 hours but the administration hasn't confirmed," they said.
Remarking on the death of 39 Indians in Iraq, Ministry of External Affairs sources told news agency ANI that no bodies would be coming back to India today. "We will share as and when details are worked out," said that MEA Sources.
5) Khurshid suggests Modi govt misled nation:
The Centre misled the nation regarding the killing of 39 Indians
in Iraq's Mosul by the Islamic State, suggested former Union minister and senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid. He blamed the external affairs ministry and said that they took too long to confirm the same.
"It is tragic. To an extent what external affairs minister is saying is understandable, what is difficult to understand is inability all these days to have ascertained the truth and to have in sense misled people of India about how terrible the truth was," the former external affairs minister said.
6) Families of the 39 Indians killed in Iraq ask the Modi government some tough questions:
As they tried to come to terms with the fate of their loved ones, family members of the 39 Indians massacred years ago in Iraq
by ISIS had only one question: Why did the Modi government keep them in the dark for so long? Heart-rending scenes were visible outside the homes of the deceased in Punjab as bereaved family members tried to express their pain after having heard Swaraj's statement on TV that all the 39 Indians in ISIS captivity were dead and their bodies had been recovered.
Several relatives of the slain workers said they were not officially informed about their loved ones by any government authority, even as some demanded that the DNA reports be shared with them and the test be conducted once again in India.
"What do we say now?" asked a dejected Sarwan, whose 31-year-old brother Nishan was among those killed. "The government kept us in the dark all these years," Sarwan, who belongs to Amritsar, claimed. He agonised that now, after four years, the government was making such a shocking statement. "We met the Union minister (Swaraj) 11 to 12 times and were told that as per their sources, the missing Indians are alive. They have been saying that Harjit Masih, the lone survivor, is a liar," said Sarwan, who last heard his brother's voice over a phone call in June 21, 2014, adding, "If your sources have been saying they were alive and now suddenly what happened. The government should have told us they have no information about missing Indians rather than making false statements."
With their hopes dashed all of a sudden after the Modi goverment's statement on Tuesday, anger seethed out. "It is the government's biggest failure. Most of the missing Indians were from Punjab. When the government could save nurses from Kerala, why it completely failed in saving other Indians," he asked. We have been seeking time from the minister for the past several months but we were not given a chance to meet her, he claimed.
Click here to read all the statements given by the bereaved families of the 39 Indians killed in Iraq who were caught by surprise by the government's announcement
An inconsolable Gurpinder Kaur, whose 27-year-old younger brother Manjinder Singh was among the missing Indians killed in Iraq, also has similar questions. "Initially, they were saying the Indians are alive. Now, the minister today (Tuesday) made such a statement," Kaur said, her voice choking. She added that they were not even told about Manjinder's fate and instead, they came to know of his demise from the TV. "I am trying to know from the government how all this happened," she said.
7) Congress says Sushma Swaraj should apologise to 39 bereaved families:
The Congress demanded that External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj apologise to the families of the 39 Indians killed in Iraq
for "misleading" them and giving them "false hopes". The Opposition party also demanded that the Modi government compensate the kin of the deceased. Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala cited Parliament papers to show how senior Congress leader Ambika Soni had raised this issue with Swaraj in July 2017, asking her "what was her source for being 100 per cent sure that they were alive", since "one day she (Sushma Swaraj) would say that all this is not known and they are all dead..."
"What Ambikaji had said in Parliament has come true today," he said.
The Congress demanded that each family should be given Rs 10 million (Rs 1 crore) as compensation.
Asking why Sushma Swaraj repeatedly misled the nation and the families and gave them "false hopes",
Further, Surjewala said that from 2014 until July 2017, the Modi government had seven times said that the 39 Indians were safe, alive, and being provided basic amenities and food. "The 39 Indians were kidnapped in June 2014. The entire world and the neighbouring countries had confirmed that they were not alive. When Indian media went to Mosul in July 2017 and reported that the Indians were not alive, Sushma Swaraj and Modi government rejected it. When an eyewitness came forward said that the ISIS have killed the Indians, they rejected it too," he said, adding, "Sushma Swaraj had said when Iraqi Prime Minister comes to India, the government will confirm it from him, but didn't do anything."
He said that the minister should visit all the families and apologise for misleading them and announcing the news on television first.
8) Lone Indian survivor wonders why govt didn't believe him:
After Swaraj revealed that all the 39 Indians kidnapped by the ISIS in Iraq had been killed, the lone survivor, Harjit Masih, wondered why the government didn't believe him
all these years after he had "spoken the truth". "I had been saying for the past three years that all 39 Indians had been killed by ISIS militants," Masih, 28, a resident of a village in Gurdaspur district, told reporters.
He said that they were all killed in front of his eyes. Narrating the incident, Masih said the Indians were kidnapped by the militants and after some days they fired indiscriminately at them. "I was fortunate to manage to escape from the clutches of the militants despite getting a bullet injury," he said.
Swaraj on Tuesday rejected Masih's claim that the 39 Indians were shot dead as a "cock and bull story which wasn't true". Dismissing Masih's claims, Swaraj said, "He was not willing to tell me how he escaped."
He had escaped along with Bangladeshis with the help of a caterer with a fake name Ali, she added.
9) Swaraj defends Modi government's handling of the matter:
After questions were raised over the government's handling of the demise of the 39 Indians, Sushma Swaraj held a press conference on Tuesday to say that the government cannot declare any person dead without concrete proof first. Further, the external affairs minister added that it was her duty to inform Parliament first about their death rather than tell their families.
Swaraj said that she had refused to close the files of the 39 abducted Indians until the government "had concrete proof in hand" about their deaths.
Earlier on Tuesday, she had informed the Rajya Sabha that Indian efforts to search for the missing workers led to a mound near Badush village in Mosul where a local resident said some bodies had been buried by the Islamic State under a mound. She said that deep penetration radars helped find 39 bodies buried under the mound. The bodies were exhumed and DNA samples from relatives of the missing workers were sent to Iraq. The minister added that DNA samples matched with 38 bodies and the 39th was yet to be fully confirmed because the DNA sample sent was from someone else in his family as his parents had passed away.
"The first sign was that the bodies were exactly 39, plus strands of long hair and a 'kada' were also found. So we started conducting DNA tests," Swaraj said.
According to the External Affairs Ministry, the deceased Indians hailing from Punjab were Dharminder Kumar, Harish Kumar, Harsimranjeet Singh, Kanwaljit Singh, Malkit Singh, Ranjit Singh, Sonu, Sandeep Kumar, Manjinder Singh, Gurcharan Singh, Balwant Rai, Roop Lal, Devinder Singh, Kulwinder Singh, Jatinder Singh, Nishan Singh, Gurdeep Singh, Kamaljit Singh, Gobinder Singh, Pritpal Sharma, Sukhwinder Singh, Jasvir Singh, Parvinder Kumar, Balvir Chand, Surjeet Mainka, Nand Lal, and Rakesh Kumar.
Those from Himachal Pradesh were Aman Kumar, Sandeep Singh Rana, Inderjeet, and Hem Raj.
While Samar Tikadar and Khokhan Sikder hailed from West Bengal, Santosh Kumar Singh, Bidya Bhushan Tiwari, Adalat Singh, Sunil Kumar Kushwaha, Dharamendra Kumar, and Raju Kumar Yadav were from Bihar.
Except for Raju Kumar Yadav, the bodies of all others have been identified through DNA samples.
10) PM Modi condoles deaths; praises Swaraj and Singh:
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday expressed his condolences
to families of the 39 Indians who have been confirmed dead following their kidnapping by the Islamic State in 2014. Modi said that every Indian grieves with those who lost their loved ones in Iraq's Mosul.
Modi said in tweets that External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj and her deputy V K Singh had left "no stone unturned" in trying to trace and bring back the kidnapped Indians.
He added that the government remains fully committed towards the safety of Indians living abroad.
Every Indian grieves with those who lost their loved ones in Mosul. We stand in solidarity with the bereaved families and pay our respects to the Indians killed in Mosul.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 20, 2018
The MEA and particularly my colleagues @SushmaSwaraj Ji and @Gen_VKSingh Ji left no stone unturned in trying to trace and safely bring back those we lost in Mosul.
Our Government remains fully committed towards ensuring the safety of our sisters and brothers overseas.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) March 20, 2018