Indians missing in Iraq: Sushma says 'sin' to presume them dead
The suspense over the 39 missing Indians in Iraq continued on Wednesday with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj asserting that it was "sin" to presume without any proof that they were dead.
"Declaring anyone dead without proof is a sin and I won't commit that sin," Sushma Swaraj told the Lok Sabha, after Opposition members accused her of "misleading the House" on the missing Indian labourers, mostly from Punjab.
The Indian labourers were reported missing in June 2014 in Mosul, an Islamic State-held territory that was liberated recently by Iraqi forces. The abducted workers were working in a construction company near Mosul when militants captured the Iraqi city.
Some relatives of the missing people in Amritsar have said they received phone calls from some of the workers five days after Mosul was captured.
Sushma Swaraj said she has asked the Iraq government to give India an update with evidence on what happened to the missing Indians.
She said Harjit Masih, who was part of the group abducted by Islamic State militants but had escaped, claimed that the Indians were shot dead in a forest in Mosul, but no bodies or evidence had so far been found.
"After listening to the story, I told the (Indian) embassy to search the whole of Mosul, and around, you will find the 39 bodies somewhere, or blood stains would be there. I also said the ISIS has a habit of issuing lists if they kill many people of a country.
"We did not find any bodies, list, video or any photo. I thought we should at least search for them," she said.
The Minister said that while Masih has said they were dead, at least "six sources" have maintained that they may be alive.
She said that according to the information that has been received, the group was caught at the Mosul airfield, and taken to a jail, after which they were put to construction work, and then farming, before being taken to Badush jail in 2016. But after that there has been no contact.
The Minister said that all the information was culled from different sources and there was no evidence to support any of the claims.
Following reports in the media that the Badush jail building had been demolished, the Minister was blamed for misleading the nation on the 39 Indians.
She, however, said that in all her meetings with the families of the missing people, she has always made it clear that there was no evidence about their being alive, just as there was no evidence that they were dead.
"I have suggested that the prison warden (of Badush jail) should be contacted, they may have a list. Otherwise, there will be bodies, are the bodies in shape to carry out a DNA test," she said.
The Minister said that in a war there are four categories of people -- the Prisoners of War, the missing, those killed and those believed to be killed. She said there have been cases of people who were believed to be killed but were found alive several years later.
"The file will not be closed till there is concrete evidence," the Minister added.
Earlier, Sushma Swaraj faced ruckus in the House from opposition members, mostly from the Congress, as she was about to speak.