All 39 are Alive

They were killed long ago. Killed by ISIS in Iraq. Thirty-Nine Indian citizens. Ordinary labourers from Punjab, Himachal, Bihar and West Bengal. Out to earn a living with the sweat of their brows. Trapped in an ugly war zone in Mosul far, far away from home. Caught in a violent and bloody conflict they had nothing to do with. Massacred (or executed) by the most vicious terror group in modern times.

Nobody really knows how they were killed (machine-gunned or beheaded or just buried alive). Nobody knows when exactly they died (maybe two years ago or even four years ago).

A horrendous story—which would have been just another heart-rending tale of man's inhumanity to man in this age of death, devastation and despair.

But the posthumous announcement of confirmation of the pointless deaths of 39 Missing Indians escalated into a full-blown political controversy.

Instead of being a moment to collectively pause, mourn and grieve, it exploded into an obscene quarrel more despicable than the terrible tragedy itself.

It is difficult to put a finger on what happened in Parliament recently. It is impossible to pinpoint what, or who, was to blame.

Perhaps it was the behaviour of the bereaved? But should the family members of the deceased be condemned and criticised for bursting into tears on hearing the news on television screens?

Should the wives (who were already walking widows for four years), the aged mothers and fathers (who had hoped against hope for every day of the four years and prayed to every known and unknown god that their sons would be found alive), should the children in tattered clothes (clinging to their elders in a fear they did not comprehend)—should these deplorable villagers in rural Jalandhar and a dozen other places be reprimanded for wailing out loud in anger and anguish—"Why were we lied to? Why were we given false hope? Why were we not told earlier? Why did we have to hear about it on TV?"

Yes, the kith and kin were grievously at fault. They had no justification to doubt the intentions of the Government. They were guilty of utterly irresponsible—and indeed unpatriotic- behaviour. Did they not know the rules and procedures and protocols of the Parliament of India?

The Honourable Minister of External Affairs had no option but to inform both the hallowed Houses first before telling them the bad news that the body of their loved one had finally been found in a filthy mound of mud somewhere in Iraq. What difference would it have made, anyway? Their sons and husbands had died a long time ago. They had been dead a long time.

Why can't everybody appreciate the wonderful work done by the Minister—and her two dedicated junior Ministers. And all the hard-working, patriotic officers and staff of the Indian Mission posted in the dangerous zones of war-ravaged West Asia. Not to forget the hundreds of employees in the Foreign Office who sacrificed their personal pleasures and leisure hours constantly keeping vigil for four long years making long-distance phone-calls and updating files in the great search for the Missing 39.

Not even a word of praise for a Minister who, being a woman, felt a deep empathy and had limitless compassion for the bereaved mothers and wives. A lady politician who never failed to ask any foreign dignitary she met, formally or informally, during all those four long years, one single question—Do you know where my 39 missing Indians are?

Strictly speaking, as she was at pains to point out during her press conference defending herself, she had not made any fact-free statement on the floor of the House on the subject of the 39 Missing Indians.

All she had repeatedly said in all her many parliamentary replies was that she could not go by eye-witness accounts that all the men had been killed—the eye-witness Harjit Masih had no proof to substantiate his claim.

Moreover, the fact that he was able to escape from ISIS captivity indicates his lack of integrity and loyalty. All the more because he claims to have changed his name and taken up a false Bangladeshi identity in order to slip away from the clutches of the dreaded Islamic State. How can such a traitor be relied upon? That is why he had to be kept locked up and subjected to sustained interrogation for three years since 2015 and is still in protective custody.

The Minister and her two juniors, who flanked her during the extraordinary press conference, was adamant that she had not lied. Despite the fact that several TV channels showed clips of her stating, as recently as six months ago, that she had information from sources that all 39 are alive and are in a prison and are being fed properly.


Vol. 50, No.41, Apr 15 - 21, 2018