We can’t confirm anybody’s death sans concrete proof: Sushma
New Delhi: Facing a volley of questions on Tuesday after she confirmed in Parliament the death of 39 Indians who were reported missing in Iraq in 2014, External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj said the government cannot confirm any person’s death without concrete proof in hand and it was her duty to inform Parliament first about such an important piece of news rather than the victims’ families.
Briefing media persons here, Sushma Swaraj said her government did not believe in declaring a person “missing, believed killed”.
“I refused to close the files (of the 39 Indians) till we had concrete proof in hand (about their death),” she said.
The 39 Indian workers had gone missing in the Iraqi city of Mosul after it was overrun by the Islamic State (IS) terrorist organisation in June 2014.
Twenty-seven of them hailed from Punjab, four from Himachal Pradesh, six from Bihar and two from West Bengal.
“Not a single day was spared in our efforts to trace them after they went missing in June 2014,” Sushma Swaraj said.
She said that till Mosul was freed in July last year from the IS, the government was trying to ascertain if these 39 people were alive.
But, she said, after Mosul was freed and there was no word from these workers for 15 to 20 days, more efforts were put in to trace them.
Stating that Minister of State for External Affairs V.K. Singh visited Iraq three times after Mosul was freed, she said that Iraqi authorities put the Indian government in touch with the Martyrs Foundation that looks after the interests of the families of those killed in the war-ravaged nation.
“After the Martyrs Foundation sought DNA samples of missing Indians, we collected the same through four state governments in September last year,” Sushma Swaraj said.
Asked why then there was such a delay in confirming the death of these Indians, she said that the DNA samples were initially matched with the bodies found in mass graves in Iraq.
Stating that the Indians’ bodies were not found in the mass graves, she said that it was only later that the Martyrs Foundation informed about a mound being found in Mosul with the possibility of bodies being buried there.
“We sought a deep penetration radar of the mound and when it was confirmed that there were bodies buried there, we had them exhumed,” Sushma Swaraj said.
She said that when exactly 39 bodies were found, it became more or less clear these were those of the missing Indians.
“Bodies with long hair and karas on arms showed that these were Sikh people,” she said.
Stating that the Martyrs Foundation does not confirm any person’s death till 100 per cent identification has been done through DNA samples, she said that it was on Monday that reports came of 100 per cent identification of 38 of the bodies.
“Only 70 per cent identification of the body of Ram Yadav of Bihar could be done and that could be because the DNA sample sent was from someone else in his family as his parents are no longer there,” Sushma Swaraj said.
Asked what kept hopes alive of the fate of these men, she said that at least two Heads of State had said they might not have been killed.
In a statement in the Lok Sabha soon after his visit to Mosul in July last year, Gen. V.K. Singh said: “As per latest information from multiple third-party sources, they are all safe.”
When her attention was drawn to the anger of the families at not being informed first about the bodies being found, Sushma Swaraj said that their anger was understandable but it was her prerogative to inform Parliament about such an important news.
She recalled that she had told Parliament in November 2014 and then again in July 2017 that she did not have any credible evidence of whether these people were dead or alive and had promised that she would make an announcement there within 24 hours if concrete proof was in hand.
Asked why the government did not go by the words of Harjeet Massi, the lone Indian who had escaped the fate of the 39 others and who claimed that the others were killed by the IS, Sushma Swaraj said: “He is just one individual. How can the government make an announcement based on a single man’s statement?”
She also said that Indian Ambassador to Iraq Pradeep Singh Rajpurohit has been asked to make arrangements for coffins and Gen. V.K. Singh will be going to Iraq to bring the bodies in an aircraft at the earliest.
“The aircraft will first land in Amritsar to hand over the bodies of those from Punjab and Himachal Pradesh and then in Patna followed by Kolkata,” Sushma Swaraj said.