Families of Indians killed in Iraq angry at VK Singh’s ‘illegal immigrants’ comments
The families of some of the men from Punjab killed by the Islamic State in Iraq reacted with anger on Tuesday to minister of state for external affairs General VK Singh’s comments that they were illegal immigrants and the Indian embassy in the war-torn country had no record of them.
Forty Indians, mostly from Punjab, were abducted by Islamic State (IS) terrorists near Mosul in Iraq in June 2014 and one of them managed to escape captivity by posing as a Muslim from Bangladesh. They were killed nearly a year ago.
The remains of the 38 men reached the country on Monday nearly four years after they went missing and were identified through DNA and forensic tests. The body of the 39th worker wasn’t brought back because there hasn’t been a complete DNA match.
Singh said that “it is a fact that they (the workers) went there (Iraq) through an illegal agent”. Referring to a group of 46 nurses from Kerala, who were rescued by India in 2014 from the clutches of Islamic State, the minister said it was possible only because the country had a record of them.
The junior foreign minister made the comments on Monday at Amritsar’s Sri Guru Ram Das Jee International Airport after bringing back the mortal remains of the 38 men.
“Should we take it that the government did not acknowledge them as Indians?” Gurpinder Kaur, sister of Manjinder Singh, asked.
“They were not killed because they were illegal immigrants, but because of their nationality, that is Indian. The ISIS militants could also kill Bangladesh nationals, but they did not. They killed them because they were Indians,” she said.
Gurpinder, who galvanised the families of the missing men in the region, said if the minister was making “such an excuse”, he should declare that those killed in Iraq were not Indians.
She said it was the primary duty of the Indian ambassador in the country to immediately inform the government in India after news broke out that the situation had worsened in Iraq. “Unfortunately, he did not inform (about the workers) for two months,” she alleged.
She also said that the Indian worker contacted the Indian embassy regularly about their situation from June 4 to June 17 in 2014 but no measure was taken to rescue them.
“Although they went to Iraq illegally, information that they were in trouble was provided to the embassy. I kept contacting the ambassador over the phone from June 6 to June 15 from here 10 times in a day. I spent huge money on the phone calls”.
“Once the embassy had been informed about them, they cannot say that they did not have a record. Should not they have been rescued being Indian nationals in such a situation?” she asked.
Sarwan Singh, the younger brother of Nishan Singh --- who was also killed in Iraq, said the minister’s statement was unfortunate.
“On June 1, my brother told me over the phone that they have informed the embassy in Baghdad that they are in trouble and need to be rescued. An official of the embassy uttered rude words. He said, ‘Have you ask us before coming here?’ We in India and they in Iraq kept contacting Indian officials, but the efforts bore no fruits,” the resident of Sangoana village in Amritsar district said.
“No one expects such kind of statements from the minister of state,” he said accusing the government of making false promises and failing to save its citizens.
He also accused the central government of discriminating against the residents of Punjab.
“As the majority of the victims are Punjabis and Sikhs, the Centre did not make efforts with dedication. If they were from any other state, they would have been saved like the nurses from Kerala,” he said.
The minister’s statement regarding compensation and job has also irked the families.
Manish Kumar, brother of Harish Kumar, said, the minister should have thought about the pain of the victims’ families before making the comments.
“Both the Centre and state government are treating the victims’ families as footballs,” Gurpinder said. “Had the victims belonged to any other state ..., the Centre would have distributed the government jobs like biscuits,” Sarwan added.