The government believes the ISIS jihadists have captured 39 Indian workers from north Iraq and they are still alive.
Kin of ISIS-held men seek information from govt Avijit Ghosh,TNN | May 5, 2015, 06.01 AM IST
NEW DELHI: The Jantar Mantar is the last port of refuge for lost causes. Here since last week, stricken by anxiety and grief, relatives of 39 Indian workers abducted by Islamic State (IS) in north Iraq in June 2014 are staging a dharna seeking definite answers from the government on the whereabouts of the captives.
Last November, foreign minister Sushma Swaraj had told Parliament that "six different sources have informed the government that they have not been killed." But several relatives who have met Swaraj and other top MEA officials on a number of occasions say that 11 months after the incident they want "proper proof" and more detailed information.
"We also want Harjit Masih to be presented before us. If that is not possible, the government should at least issue a statement on him," says Sunita Rani. Her nephew, Gurdeep Singh of Jaitpur village in Hoshiarpur district, is among those kidnapped from Mosul town. Masih was the lone Indian among the kidnapped to have escaped the clutches of IS and is reportedly in government's custody in Iraq since then.
READ ALSO: Sushma seeks Turkey's help for release of Indian hostages from ISIS custody
In the last few days, the relatives have met Union minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal and Sangrur MP Bhagwant Mann of AAP. On Monday, Congress politician Ajay Maken met them. "He even said that Congress would take up this issue in Parliament," says Parwinder Singh from Punjab's Hoshiarpur district. His brother Kamaljit and two close relatives are among the captives.
"We are being pressured by the government to lift the dharna. I don't know what we should do," says Parwinder, who has worked for Tariq Noor Al Huda, an Iraqi construction and trading firm of the Al Azawie Economical Group, the same company that the captives were working for. He was a foreman for two years before returning in 2013.
Those at Jantar Mantar — fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, wives and cousins — are from different districts of Punjab: Amritsar, Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar. A few are from Himachal Pradesh's Kangra district as well. Others from Bengal and Bihar are on their way, they say, and hope to meet Swaraj later this week.
READ ALSO: Govt believes 39 Indians held hostage by ISIS still alive
For the families, it's been an agonising wait. Sardara Singh is a marginal farmer from Amritsar district. "If I wasn't poor, would I have sent my son away?" he asks. "I cannot sleep," he says. His son Gurcharan, 33, worked as a carpenter in Iraq.
Neelam Rana's only brother, Sandeep, had shelled out Rs 1.85 lakh to a local agent for the job. Since he had left for Iraq in Sept 2013, Sandeep sent money on two occasions, including Rs 50,000 once.
"He was the family's bread winner," says Neelam. Usha Rani, wife of Sarjit Menkar has been stitching clothes to make ends meet. And, as Sunita says, "For us, every day begins with hope and ends with despair."
Last November, two Bangladeshi workers, Shafi and Hasan, speaking with a TV channel, said that masked militants holding pistols and Qurans in their hands separated the workers — 51 Bangladeshis and 40 Indians — into two groups. The terrorists quizzed them about their religious faith, they said. The two Bangladeshis were among those released later by IS. They said that Harjeet had told them about the Indians being taken to a hillock and shot. The government has dismissed Masih's version.
Answering a starred question in the Rajya Sabha in August 2014, Swaraj had said there were about 22,000 Indians in Iraq at the start of the bloody conflict.