39 Indians killed in Iraq: Did not keep anyone in dark, it was not falsehood but tireless effort, says Sushma Swaraj; slams Congress for disrupting Lok Sabha
Swaraj said no government can declare anyone dead without proof and her government does not believe in the theory of "missing, believed to be killed".
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NEW DELHI: Accusing the Congress of indulging in "cheap politics", External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj today 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".
Defending herself against a barrage of criticism, the minister said she had kept her word that she would declare them dead if she gets conclusive proof.
Swaraj had said in a statement in the Rajya Sabha earlier in the day that 39 Indians, who were abducted by ISIS in Iraq about four years go, were killed and their bodies recovered from Mosul in Iraq.
As many as 40 Indians were abducted by the terrorist organisation in 2014 but one of them escaped by posing as a Muslim from Bangladesh, Swaraj said.
Swaraj dismissed the allegations that the lone survivor, Harjit Masih, who escaped from Iraq's Mosul, was harassed and kept in a protective custody.
Swaraj further said, "Masih is just an individual, he could claim 39 others are dead; but we are the Government, we cannot say this so easily. We have to be responsible."
Masih had escaped with a group of Bangladesh colleagues under the assumed name of "Ali" and was found by Indian officials at Erbil.
Swaraj added that the DNA samples of 38 people had been matched by the Iraqi authorities.
In the case of the 39th person, the matching was 70 per cent.
The external affairs minister said two heads of states in that region had conveyed to India that the 39 Indians were not killed.
She did not take any names.
Swaraj, who could not make a statement in the Lok Sabha because of an uproar from the Congress, addressed a press conference later in the day and said 27 of the 39 were from Punjab, six from Bihar, four from Himachal Pradesh and two from West Bengal.
In an indirect dig at the Congress, she said there were governments that would interpret missing persons as "believed to be killed".
Referring to criticism from some opposition members and families of the deceased who said they got to know about death of their loved ones through television, Swaraj said she followed parliamentary procedures.
"It was my duty to first inform the House about (it)," Swaraj said, "I never gave any false hope to anyone. I was not involved in any falsehood she said, referring to her statements in Parliament in 2014 and 2017.
"I had very clearly said that I will declare them dead if I get conclusive proof. I kept my word. I will get my closure when the families receive the bodies," the minister added.
India was probably the first country which had managed to bring back all the bodies of its citizens from war-torn Iraq, she said.
The effort the government had put in to get the concrete details of the 39 Indians had never been made in the country, the minister asserted.
Swaraj did not give a direct reply to the volley of questions on when the Indians were killed, saying it was irrelevant as the bodies could have been recovered only after Mosul was liberated from the ISIS.
Mosul city was liberated from ISIS in June last year.
Taking on the opposition Congress, she wondered why the party, which was not involved in any disruptions in Lok Sabha, led the ruckus today.
"In Rajya Sabha everyone listened to me patiently. I thought the same would happen in Lok Sabha. However, the Congress led the disruptions under Jyotiraditya Scindia ji."The Congress indulged in very cheap level of politics and crossed the limit. Will we indulge in politics over death as well," Swaraj said.
The government has rejected the claims of Harjit Masih of Gurdaspur, who had managed to escape the kidnappers, that he had witnessed the massacre of the 39 Indians.
Swaraj also dismissed as baseless allegations that Masih was harassed by the government.
Asked whether the government would consider compensation to the families of the victims, Swaraj said she would talk to the concerned state governments.
She further said that the mortal remains were sent to Baghdad. For verification of bodies, DNA samples of the deceased relatives were sent in the Iraqi capital.
"We used a deep penetration satellite to see a mass grave. It had exactly 39 bodies with distinctive features like long hair, non-Iraqi shoes, and IDs. We requested that the bodies be brought out exhumed. This confirmed the death of all 39 Indian nationals," Swaraj informed.
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.
The first person whose death was confirmed through DNA matching was a person called Sandeep.
She said the 39th person whose DNA matched only 70 per cent had lost his parents and matching was done with his other family members.
"The Martyr Foundation does not declared anyone as confirmed death if the DNA matching is not 98 per cent," she said.
Iraq's Martyr Foundation, which was handling the issue of the 39 Indians, also held a press conference in Baghdad.