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Indians killed in Iraq: Never gave any false hope to anyone, says Sushma; Opposition says govt ‘insensitive’

By: Express Web Desk | New Delhi |

Updated: March 20, 2018 9:10 pm

External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj outside Parliament in New Delhi. (Source: Express photo by Anil Sharma)

Defending herself against a raft of criticism, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj on Tuesday accused the Congress of indulging in ‘cheap politics’ even as she said the government did not keep anyone in the dark over the death of 39 Indians in Iraq’s Mosul. The revelation set off a row with the Opposition, which accused it of being insensitive for not informing the victims’ families first. The Rajya Sabha was adjourned for the day within about 30 minutes since it assembled after Swaraj made a suo motu statement on the issue. To clear the air, the Union Minister later held a press conference as the Opposition disrupted her statement in the Lok Sabha raising slogans.

What did Sushma Swaraj say in Rajya Sabha today?

All the 39 Indians abducted by the Islamic State in Mosul in Iraq three years ago are dead and their bodies have been recovered, said Swaraj in the Rajya Sabha. Their identities were established through DNA testing and their bodies recovered from a village called Badosh- northwest of Mosul, she said, adding that it was not immediately known when the Indians were killed. The mortal remains, which were exhumed from a mass grave in Badosh, will be brought back to India on a special plane and handed over to their relatives, she said. “I had said that I will not declare anyone dead without substantive proof… today I have come to fulfil that commitment,” she said. “I had said that closure will be done with full proof. And when we will, with a heavy heart, give the mortal remains to their kin, it will be a kind of closure.”

A group of 40 Indian workers, mostly from Punjab, and some Bangladeshi were taken hostage by ISIS when it overran Iraq’s second largest city Mosul in 2014. Of the 40 Indians, one Harjit Masih from Gurdaspur had managed to escape. READ: No govt can declare anyone dead without proof, says Sushma Swaraj

What happened in the Lok Sabha?

The Lok Sabha proceedings were paralysed by ruckus created by parties from Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu for the 12th straight day, even as External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj informed both the Houses of the death of 39 missing Indians in Iraq. In the Lok Sabha, Swaraj was unable to make an elaborate statement on the 39 Indians killed in Iraq, due to ruckus created by Opposition members.

External minister Sushma Swaraj with MoS V K Singh. Express Photo by Prem Nath Pandey

Speaker Sumitra Mahajan urged the members to maintain order as Swaraj wanted to inform the House about a “serious” issue. Subsequently, Left and Congress members raised slogans, nearly drowning the voice of the External Affairs Minister. To this, the Speaker said: “She wants to inform the House about the 39 Indians killed in Iraq. Please listen to her.” Reacting to the commotion inside the House, Swaraj said she can’t make a statement like this. “I want to present the evidence today. Please listen to me…please maintain silence,” the minister said.

After her statement was repeatedly disrupted by the Opposition, the Speaker wondered whether the members have become “insensitive” and have “lost compassion” towards fellow countrymen. “Don’t indulge in such politics. Don’t be so insensitive … this is a very sorry state…. It has never been such a sorry state (of affairs). It is sad,” Mahajan remarked.

Swaraj blamed the Congress for disrupting her statement in LS, dismisses it as ‘cheap politics’

While noting that everyone listened to her statement patiently in the Rajya Sabha, she hoped it would be the same in the Lok Sabha. But this was not to be. “In Rajya Sabha everyone listened to me speaking very patiently and in peace. Everyone paid tribute, I thought same would happen in Lok Sabha. But unlike the past few days of ruckus, today Congress led the protests under Jyotiraditya Scindia ji. Very unfortunate,” she said. “The Congress indulged in very cheap level of politics and crossed the limit. Will we indulge in politics over death as well,” Swaraj added.

Giving details from the incident, Swaraj said, “Our govt does not believe in “missing, believed to be killed”. Declared about the death of 39 Indians only after getting proof. I personally talked to the foreign ministers of the respective countries, I went to them and asked them if they have any evidence they provide us the same.”

On questions raised by some kin of victims as to why they weren’t informed about the deaths before Parliament session, Swaraj explained it’s parliamentary procedure to first inform the house.” She also demanded that Congress explain why it disrupted Lok Sabha proceedings when she was to give details on deaths of 39 Indians in Iraq.

Harjit Masih, the lone survivor, said the government knew about the deaths but withheld news from public, Swaraj rubbishes his claim

Harjit Masih, the lone survivor who had managed to flee the ISIS following his abduction along with 39 other Indians in Iraq in 2014, today asked the government to withdraw a case of human trafficking registered against him by the Punjab police. He alleged that the government knew about the deaths of the 39 Indians in Iraq but did not tell the public due to political reasons. “The government told me not to tell anyone that they (other Indians) were dead. They asked me to say that I did not know about them and that I had run away (from Iraq),” he told media. READ:
My stand vindicated, case against me should be withdrawn

Harjit Masih.

After Sushma Swaraj revealed the news to the House and the media later, 29-year-old Masih said he had been maintaining for the last three years that all the other Indians had been killed. “I had been saying for the last three years that all 39 Indians had been killed (by ISIS militants),” he said. “I had spoken the truth,” he asserted.

Swaraj rubbished his version saying, “His was a cock-and-bull story,” adding he had managed to flee the ISIS by faking his identity as a Muslim from Bangladesh. She also said that Masih could claim 39 others are dead, but the government can’t vouch for that easily. “We are the Government, we can’t say this so easily. We have to be responsible,” Swaraj remarked in the press conference held in New Delhi.

Swaraj holds a press conference, says didn’t keep anyone in the dark

Accusing the Congress of indulging in “cheap politics”, Swaraj said she did not keep anyone in the dark over the killing of 39 Indians in captivity in Iraq or give the families “false hopes”. “It would have been a sin had we handed over anybody’s body claiming it to be those of our people, just for the sake of closing files,” she said.

MEA Sushma Swaraj addressing the press over the death of the 39 Indians in Mosul, Iraq. (Express Photo by Tashi Tobgyal)

“Out of the deceased, 27 people were from Punjab, six from Bihar, four from Himachal Pradesh and two from West Bengal. The identity of one of them is yet to be verified. I am satisfied that I had stated that will declare them dead only on the day I have concrete evidence, I kept my word. I will get my closure when I would hand over the mortal remains to their families & they receive proper last rites,” added Swaraj.

Giving details, Swaraj said, “Our govt does not believe in “missing, believed to be killed”. Declared about the death of 39 Indians only after getting proof. I personally talked to the foreign ministers of the respective countries, I went to them and asked them if they have any evidence they provide us the same.”

Asked whether the government would consider compensation to the families of the victims, Swaraj said she would talk to the concerned state governments. The minister said she has directed the Indian envoy in Iraq to impress upon the Iraqi authorities to expedite the process to hand over the bodies to India.

Congress accused the government of being ‘insensitive’ towards victims’ families

The Congress charged Sushma Swaraj of ‘playing politics’ on the matter and accused the NDA government of being “insensitive” towards the families of 39 Indians killed in Iraq. Party president Rahul Gandhi expressed shock and his deepest condolences at the killings of the Indians. Meanwhile, Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said the Modi government has “crossed all limits of insensitivity” as it preferred to make the announcement on television rather than calling up every families and informing them individually.

PM Narendra Modi rallies behind Swaraj after barrage of criticism hurled at her

Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tuesday rallied behind her and said the Ministry of External Affairs and colleagues Sushma Swaraj and V K Singh left no stone unturned in trying to trace and safely bring back those we lost in Mosul. He also said, “Indians stand in solidarity with the families of the 39 Indians killed in Mosul in Iraq and the government is “fully committed” to ensure the safety of Indians abroad.” READ: Indians stand in solidarity with the families of the 39 Indians killed in Mosul: PM Modi

“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,” added PM Modi.

For victims’ families, all hopes of seeing them came crashing down

As victims’ families struggled to come to terms with the bitter truth, some of the family members wondered why the “Centre kept them in the dark” all this while. An inconsolable Gurpinder Kaur, whose 27-year-old younger brother Manjinder Singh was among the victims, said, “Initially, they were saying the Indians are alive. Now the minister today made such a statement.” READ: Victims’ families call it ‘government’s biggest failure’

“We were not even told about it; we came to know from TV,” she told PTI, her voice choked with grief.

India voices its support to Iraq in its fight against terrorism

India’s ambassador to Iraq Pradeep Singh Rajpurohit told PTI:  “It is indeed a moment of deep grief and sadness for us to learn that a group of Indian workers in Mosul have become victims of the menace of terrorism. We express our heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families in India.” READ: ‘Shattered’ family of Gobinder Singh wants job for his son

“Out of the 39 missing Indians, until now, DNA of a total of 38 human remains have matched with the DNA obtained from the blood samples of the relatives from the states of Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal which were handed over by us to the forensic department”.

Rajpurohit also told reporters here that India strongly condemns terrorism in all forms and manifestations and stands in solidarity with the government and the people of Iraq in their fight against terrorism.

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