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English Translation of statement by External Affairs Minister in Lok Sabha on 39 Indian nationals missing in Iraq (July 26, 2017)

July 27, 2017

External Affairs Minister, Smt. Sushma Swaraj: Many many thanks Madam Speaker. First I express my heartfelt gratitude towards Kharage Ji that he understood the gravity of the subject and made arrangements so that house listens to me. Many many thanks Kharage Ji. While rest of the house was ready to listen to me, they were sitting quietly, but those who were in the well, their leader has given me this opportunity so that I can say what I have to say and hence I expressed special thanks to him.

Madam Speaker, this issue of 39 Indian hostages in Iraq has once again become a hot topic in the last 4-5 days. Since parliament session is in progress it is obligatory on my part as decorum to parliamentary behavior that I should not speak outside and I should come to the house and speak on this subject. I have been trying for this from last 3 days, two days back I had written to you that I want to come and answer it, you said that I can come at 5 O’clock but the house got over before that. Yesterday, I tried again, today I tried yet again to get an opportunity at 12 O’clock, but anyways I got this opportunity.

Madam Speaker, I would like to start with a little background that this incident is of June 15, 2014. Our government was formed on 26th May, i.e. just 20 days after the formation of our government, this incident happened. And the incident came to knowledge such that a person named Harjit Masih came from there and said that 40 people were taken hostage by ISIS people, 39 people were killed in front of me and I alone escaped from there. There are many contradictions in the story of Harjit but right now I do not want to go there.

After hearing this story, because I was the first who spoke to Masih, I do not want to go into all those details, I told my embassy that he is saying that while going from Mosul to Erbil they were killed in a forest. Please go and scan every nook and corner of Mosul, even scan 100 kilometers around Mosul, somewhere 39 bodies must be found, and if the bodies are also taken care of then at least there will be blood stains, after all 39 people have been shot, so there should be a pool of blood, so at least that should be found.

Third thing that I said, since ISIS has a habit that when they kill many people of one country then they publish a list for the same, so please find out if such a list has been published? Fourth, I said they are so heartless that they release photos or videos of such killings, so find out if there is any such thing.

Madam Speaker, neither did we find dead bodies, nor were we able to find blood spots or any list or any videos of the same. After that we thought that we must at least search for them so we started searching for them. This happened on 15th June 2014 and after that the first session of parliament came in November. I came to this house on 24th November because a day before that there were interviews of two Bangladeshi people named Shafi and Hassan who were also quoting Harjeet and saying that these people have been killed.

Shri Jyotiraditya Scindia Ji raised this topic here. In fact, he did not give any notice, I had asked myself that I wanted to give an explanation, but when he gave the notice, I said, even though the notice has not been given but let him speak. He presented his point in great detail and after that I also participated in that discussion. Now I want to tell you here that whatever I did, I did it by not only taking the House in faith, but with the permission of this House, and it is a coincidence that the Presidency was yours only.

And what I had said, I have brought the entire working of the Lok Sabha of November 24, 2014, but I want to read only the related portions. I am saying this to the House, "You tell me that a person is saying that they have been killed while our 6 sources are saying they have not been killed, they are alive, what should I do? By accepting that they have been killed, should I keep my hands on my arms and stop searching for them?

This is an easy choice, but the other option is that our 6 sources which are saying that they have not been killed, I must move ahead by believing in them and keep on searching for these people. I have said this again and again to the House that I do not have any direct contact with them. I do not have any concrete proof of them being alive, but I also do not have any concrete evidence of them having been killed. So it is not only wise but also obligation of responsibility that I should choose second option and keep on searching them.

But I did not stop here, I had said, "I am assuring you, I am telling you that the day I got any concrete evidence of what Harjit has said, I would come and say that they have been killed.” After that, I'm speaking here, "Madam Speaker, with your permission I would like to seek permission from this house" I had used the word 'permission', "that if they think that my path is right and I should not stop my efforts by trusting Harjeet’s statement, then I will definitely want that this House should help me so that I can move ahead in my efforts."

Today, Jyotiraditya Ji may or may not remember, he met me outside in the corridor after I had spoken and he said that I congratulate you for giving such a responsible statement.

I was just listening here now, in the well, when I had said that I am going to speak, Kharge Ji did not have the correct information that I had spoken in the Rajya Sabha and there is some Privilege Motion, I have not yet spoken in the Rajya Sabha. I am scheduled to speak in the Rajya Sabha tomorrow, then I will speak there. But here one person was saying repeatedly, she has been misleading from last three years, what will she say now?

I want to say just this, what have I been misleading, that I have not declared them dead? It is very good, but it is not that I'm misleading, but I am saying that the thing which is said repeatedly that why don’t I declare them dead, why don’t I believe in Harjeet's statement? Madam Speaker I would stand here today and say that it is a sin to declare someone dead without any concrete evidence and I will never commit this sin.

After getting the permission that I had sought from this House, I scaled up the search operation very much. I spoke to the foreign ministers of all the six Gulf countries and today I want to share with the House that I learned from somewhere that maybe Turkish can help in this matter. Without any bilateral meeting I reached Turkey at 12 O'clock at night, spoke to the foreign minister at 9:00 in the morning and returned at 10:00 a.m.

And I have spoken to all the countries who could help in the search, Prime Minister also spoke with them. And today I can say here that when I talk about the sources, they are not just people walking on the road who say that they have seen them, the President of a country told me, the foreign minister of another country told me.

So we were moving ahead in this because we believed that it is our responsibility, if we get some information with concrete proof that they are dead or if we get the information with concrete proof that they are alive, I’ll tell them. And here I want to say one more thing, I have met their families 12 times. It is true that Bhagwant Maan Ji himself brought them 3 times, but I have met them 12 times and on all those 12 occasions, I have always used this caution that whatever information I had with me, after sharing, I have always said three sentences. First, I don’t have any proof of what I am telling you, second, this information has been received from other resources and third, I don’t have any direct contact with them. Each and every time on those 12 occasions I have finished by saying these three sentences.

Madam Speaker, since my Minister of State had been an army chief, when we were discussing this he told me that war also has its traditions. When a war is over then people are divided into four segments. First, POW meaning prisoners of war, who are in other nation’s captivity. Second, Missing, those who are not traceable, third, Killed, those who have been killed and fourth, Believed to be killed.

I am telling you that not only for those who are "missing” but who are "believed to be killed” also, for them also it is the responsibility of governments not to close their files till the time a concrete evidence is found regarding their death. And I will surprise you by telling you that till today they are searching for people who were in the "Believed to be killed” category in the Vietnam war. American people who were in the "Believed to be killed” category of the Second World War, they come here to search for such people. And if, according to you, I take out these people from the ‘missing’ category and bring them to the ‘believed to be killed’ category, even then this file will not be closed till the time there is a concrete evidence confirming their death.

That is why I said that this is a sin, someone said today that if today I say that they are dead and tomorrow if anyone from them comes back then what? Maybe his world would have changed during that time, who will be the culprit then? I do not want to take this crime on me, so I also want to say that those who think and they are convinced that these missing people have been killed and who are also convinced that I am lying, or hiding the truth, they are free to go and tell the family members of missing people that these people have been killed, but if any missing person comes back, then it will be their responsibility who had told them this thing.

I will say one more thing, that if any one of those families do not trust me anymore and they feel that I am not telling the truth, and their child has been killed, then they are also free to perform Ardasa. But if any missing person comes back then it will be their responsibility.

Nowadays a picture is being shown that this was the jail which is now destroyed, Sushma had said that they were in that jail. I never said that they were in the Jail, this is our problem that we selectively pick up things. Madam Speaker, people ask what the government is doing. Iraqi Prime Minister announced on 9th of the month that Mosul has become free, slowly it has come out of the clutches, on the evening of 10th, my minister of state was on a plane to Mosul. Their Prime Minister announces it on the 9th, before that even their Prime Minister could not reach there, the conditions there were such that their Prime Minister also could not reach Mosul. The day it was announced, MoS was in Indore for some program, which you may also know, I called him there and asked whether he listened to that announcement, he said yes. I said come back, you have to leave at night. He reached Delhi on the morning of 10th and was onboard evening plane to Iraq and he stayed there for 4 days.

Today they talk about that picture. General V K Singh told me after he returned. As soon as I got the information that today General V K Singh is coming back, next day I called the families and then in front of all the families, first I myself told them what I was informed and then I asked General to tell them himself. What did he say, and he had spoken to a a very senior officer in Baghdad because he could not find anything in Erbil so he said that he is going to Baghdad.

What did that source say, he had said that we have news from our intelligence sources that they were caught at Mosul Airfield. After that they were kept for a few days in jail, then they were put in hospital construction work. After that, they were put in farming, but during early 2016 they were sent to Badush Jail. After that, till today, we don’t have any contact with them.

Beginning of 2016, which means it has been around one and a half years. What happened in those one and a half years, the source said that there is no contact. They were in Badush jail in the beginning of 2016, after that there has been no contact. This very same thing, first I told the families, without using any comma or full stop and then I asked General Ji to tell them directly and General Singh also gave the very same information to them.

So Sushma never said that they are in Badush jail today and this is what I want to say that this picture only tell that much that the jail is destroyed, but this picture does not answers our questions. Our questions are, at the time when this prison collapsed, were Indian citizens present in it? If they were present then how many, and who were present? Second, before the demolition of prison, were the prisoners shifted elsewhere or were they all killed? And if all of them there were killed, because there could be many thousand people as this was such a big prison, then what happened to dead bodies of all of them? Are these dead bodies still available today and are they in such a condition that they can be identified using DNA test, these questions are all still unanswered.

Just saying that Sushma had said that they are in jail and see that jail has collapsed. I wanted to clarify this whole confusion that has been spread from the last four-five days.

Secondly, when the Iraqi Foreign Minister came here, I had sought permission to speak at 5 o'clock because we had our meeting between 12 and 3 o'clock, both of our state ministers were with him only. He said exactly the same thing that we neither have any concrete proof that they are alive nor any concrete evidence that they have been killed, and the officer which your Minister of State is talking about is also not certain now, because after 2016 he said that he has no contact with them. He does not has any information after 2016, so he is not certain today whether they are alive or dead, but we will be searching them completely.

He said this outside also, We do not know whether they are alive or dead, but the newspaper headlines comes, "FM Iraq says they are not alive.” He never said they are not alive, he said, whether they are alive or dead, we don’t know.

And I tell you that we were talking about this so compassionately that he said that the compassion that I am seeing and the passion with which you are talking about it, we have a saying in Iraq, wait is worse than death, but what can we do Excellency, in this situation only wait is required and we cannot do anything else.

After that I told him, Excellency I want to make a request, so he said, what? I said, now whatever information you give me please give it along with the evidence. I will not accept information without any evidence. I have consoled these families 12 times by information without any evidence but now I cannot console them without any evidence. And I said the biggest concrete evidence that could be, I only suggested them, if you can contact warden of this prison then please do it. They have a list of prisoners, see if there are names of any Indians in that list, and if there are names, who are they? This will be a very concrete evidence.

Then I said that if the list was destroyed and warden has survived, it was heard that prison warden had escaped, I don’t really know about that, so second thing that I said was to at least check with the warden if according to his memory whether people of Indian nationality were there, and if yes how many were they?

I said this would be the easiest and the most convincing proof of it. He said that the burden on his mind is that these Indians had come to rebuild Iraq, they were construction workers, but they got trapped there, so it is their responsibility to find them. So whatever you have said we will keep that in front of ourselves, and other than that we will do as much as we can, but I said that please give me proof.

Till now I have been asking evidence but I did not get any evidence, so I kept telling the families that this information has been received from other sources, we do not have any direct contact but now give me proof.

If they are alive then tell me where are they, how many of them are there and who are they? And as a proof, if they can write their name in Hindi or Gurmukhi, or the name of their village, then it will be an even more convincing proof, or if we find an image, whatever you provide, it should be such that I can say yes, this is a concrete evidence.

Without them, I will not call those families nor will I talk to them till the time I have the evidence. So he said that he understands my pain, he said this not only to me but after that M J Akbar ji organized lunch and dinner for him, at that time also he reiterated the same thing. He said that please tell your External Affairs Minister that we will search thoroughly and now whatever we will be telling her, we will tell with evidence, we will not tell anything without any evidence.

So I want to tell you, Madam Speaker, I never misled and what would be my benefit by misleading? I have a lot of faith in democracy and even more faith in the Parliament and I believe that if a minister or a Member of Parliament stands on the floor of Parliament and makes false statement, then it is a serious crime. But even if someone does, they would be doing it for some benefit or gain, either a personal gain or for their government, or even to harm others. I want to ask my colleagues, what is the benefit that I am getting, or my government is getting or what harm it is causing to others?

I am just performing my duty. See, if I declare them dead then it is very easy for me, neither will these people ask questions nor the family members will come to me. They will say since you have said, they have been killed, but I will tell you another incident, Madam Speaker which is worth listening.

A year ago 6 families from the same Punjab came to meet me and they said that someone’s husband, someone's father and somebody's son had been declared martyrs in the battle of 71. They said at that time TV was not there, it was announced on All India Radio that they have been martyred and considering them dead we did their Ardasa and moved on.

After 45 years, now they are saying, a person from their village came out from a jail in 2016 and he told us that they are alive, these martyr people were in jail with him. Since then those families are asking me to bring them back. On the very same day I took their photos and other particulars, and sent all that to our Islamabad High Commissioner and asked him that according to this person these people are in this jail, so please confirm from there and tell me. Now Pakistan says that these people are not with them. The list of prisoners that they have, their names are not present in that list.

Now those families are after me to bring their people back. At that time, in 1971, the then Government had said, look he is nodding because he knows. That is why now 45 years later, they are asking me to bring their people back. They telephone me twice a day, in between when I was unwell, they could not contact me, now they telephone me twice in a day. I am telling them that we are engaged on this, there is a judicial committee, we can reconstruct that so that they can go to the jail and check.

But I am saying that on one side it is this. I'll tell about another case. 21 years ago a seven year old kid crossed the border while he was playing with his father, his name is Nanak Singh. Now his whole family is telling me that he is in a Pakistani jail, you must bring him back. We are telling them that Pakistan has repeatedly denied that there is no person of that name, then we sent photos to check if there is any person with that face, they again said no. Now the family has filed a writ in the Punjab-Haryana High Court to direct the government to bring him back.

So my point to say is that on one side, the entire family of Nanak Singh is asking me to bring him back, whatever Pakistan may be saying but bring him back. On the other hand, these 6 families are saying that in 1971 the then government had declared these people martyr, but they are alive, bring them back.

I will tell you more case which you might be knowing, Major Dhan Singh Thapa, the government of that time declared him a martyr and posthumously awarded him with Param Vir Chakra and later he came out alive as he was in a Chinese jail.

So I am not saying this. I spoke to the Russian Foreign Minister. I asked him, Excellency can you do anything? He told me that our three truck drivers were kidnapped, after seven years they came back alive, you must keep patience.

I am not saying that 7 years or 41 years, I am saying that even if after a week, what the Iraqi Foreign Minister has been saying, if he provides any evidence then I will come here and accept that whether he says so many of them are alive and so many are dead, I will accept that. But whatever I will say, I will say with evidence. And I am also saying that even till today, I have not said from my side that they are alive. I only said that one person is saying that they have been killed, rest of our sources are saying that they have not been killed, so it is incumbent on government to search them and that is why I am searching for them and I am doing it with the permission of this House.

And I would like to say to you Madam Speaker, till the time I have no concrete evidence, I will continue the search because, I want to repeat this, declaring somebody dead without any proof is a sin and I am not going to be a partner in this sin.

My inner self says that, maybe after few days, there will come such an evidence which will uncover the mystery from this story, Madam Speaker, I am waiting for that day.

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