In 2014, the Daesh, or Islamic State, was rapidly occupying huge swathes of Iraq, capturing town after town in its attempt to build its caliphate. In June that year, barely a month after the Narendra Modi government was sworn in, reports of two batches of Indians being captured by the Islamic fundamentalist outfit posed the first major foreign policy challenge to the new regime. One was a group of 46 nurses from Kerala, abducted from Tikrit and taken to Mosul. The second group comprised 40 labourers—from Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal—captured from Mosul when it fell to the Daesh onslaught.
New Delhi quickly sent a special envoy to Iraq, and the MEA led by Sushma Swaraj negotiated the release of the nurses about a month later. But the labourers were not so lucky. One of them, Harjit Masih, managed to escape and contact the Indian Embassy in Baghdad, which quickly brought him back to India.
According to Masih, the batch was abducted in Mosul on June 11, and everyone was shot dead by IS four days later. He escaped because the bullet grazed his body, and he pretended to be dead. But later he was identified as the agent who took the workers to Iraq, and the Centre debunked his claim. “Sources there told (minister of state for external affairs) Gen (retd) V K Singh that the missing Indians are most probably in a jail in Badush (west Mosul) where fighting is still going on,” Sushma Swaraj told Parliament this July. Efforts to track them down since then were in vain, with conflicting reports about their deaths and sightings coming in.
But following the fall of Mosul to Iraqi forces recently, hopes were once again raised. On Thursday, V K Singh—armed with DNA samples from some of the relatives of the labourers—arrived in Iraq to seek closure to the case one way or another. Singh, accompanied by Iraqi officials, will be travelling to Mosul and Badush in the hope of locating the labourers if they are still alive. One can only hope he returns with good news.