The fate of 39 Indian citizens, who were abducted by Islamic State militants in war-torn Iraq, remains unknown with differing accounts coming to the surface. The story had in fact completely receded from the minds of the larger Indian public until Harjit Masih, the only one who escaped the abduction, claimed on Thursday that all 39 Indian citizens were killed. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, however, refused to buy Masih’s version of events. Swaraj maintained the stance <g data-gr-id="39">taken</g> by the Ministry of External Affairs: that all 39 are alive, based on sources it had on the ground. In addition to the explosive claim that all 39 Indian citizens were killed, Masih also alleged that he has been kept in custody by Indian agencies over the last year and was only let go a fortnight ago.
The key point that logically follows from the entire verbal melee is the lack of proof on the whereabouts of the 39. Speaking to various news media outlets, the families of the abducted voiced their frustration at the lack of any proof on the government’s part to substantiate its claims, besides mere reassurances. It has been close to one year since the 39 Indian citizens were abducted.
According to a national daily, senior officials in the Kurdish government had backed Masih’s account of events. They believe that the missing men may have been among the “many bodies” that were dumped in mass graves south of Mosul. New Delhi, however, has dismissed these claims, based on inputs from sources, which allegedly include businessmen and contractors operating in Islamic State-held territory. The staff from Iraq’s Red Crescent, an international humanitarian organisation working on the front lines, had also reportedly identified at three of the Indian men in the photographs, leading Swaraj to dismiss Masih’s claim. In addition to the 39 missing Indians, Red Crescent volunteers have also returned from the frontlines with the names of many Indians not on the list, but who remain trapped in areas under Islamic State control.
What the families of the 39 are undergoing is reminiscent of the agony that many felt after the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines flight MH370. Not knowing whether their loved ones are alive or not is sheer agony due to the lack of any closure. Admittedly, establishing contact with the abducted is a task fraught with danger. The lack of any credible information passing through areas held by the Islamic State is a testament to that fact. Confirmation or the lack thereof surrounding Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s death is an example of the above point. Families of the 39 will continue to oscillate between hope and despair. “We urge the government to tell us the truth as we are ready to listen. Do not test our patience,” said a family member of one the abducted. The government must come out with the whole truth, allied with concrete evidence.