‘This is savagery’: Rescued Kerala nurse reacts with shock to death of 39 workers in Iraq | india news | Hindustan Times
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‘This is savagery’: Rescued Kerala nurse reacts with shock to death of 39 workers in Iraq

While the nurses were taken hostage after an attack on a Tikrit hospital, the workers were abducted from a construction site in Mosul. The nurses, however, were not ill-treated by their captors.

india Updated: Mar 20, 2018 18:19 IST
Ramesh Babu, Hindustan Times, Thiruvananthapuram
Jubilant relatives welcome nurses who were held captive by Islamic State militants, at the Kochi airport in 2014.
Jubilant relatives welcome nurses who were held captive by Islamic State militants, at the Kochi airport in 2014. (PTI File)

Marina Jose, 43, sits behind the counter of her bakery in Kottayam’s Kodungoor village with a quizzical look on her face. The radio had informed her of the tragic death of 39 Indian workers in war-torn Iraq a while ago, but she is yet to come to terms with it.

The entire nation may be mourning the death of its citizens at the hands of the extremists, but few can understand what they must have gone through as acutely as Jose. She was, after all, one of the 46 Indian nurses rescued from territories held by the Islamic State after 23 days of captivity in 2014.

The extremists had abducted the nurses (45 Keralites and one Tamil) and the workers around the same time that year. While the nurses were taken hostage after an attack on a Tikrit hospital, the workers were abducted from a construction site in Mosul.

“We managed to escape from the jaws of death somehow, but it’s sad that our workers couldn’t make it. How could they kill innocent people who had gone there to work? This is nothing but savagery,” the senior nurse says.

Memories of Jose’s time in captivity make her shudder. “I still have nightmares of our ordeal in Iraq. Everything – the billowing smoke, charred vehicles and half-burnt bodies – is still fresh in my mind. There were times we lost all hope, and frustration made us yell at people back home who were working hard for our release,” she recalls.

The mother of two, however, points out that their captors never ill-treated them. “They held us hostage on the second floor of the hospital for many days, but never misbehaved with us. One of their leaders even said that Indian nurses are known for their service, and promised to never target innocent people like us,” she says.

Marina Jose at her home in Kottayam after her return from Iraq. (HT Photo)

Jose worked for nearly 10 years in places abroad (five years in Saudi Arabia, three in Malaysia and one in Iraq) before deciding to take a break and set up a bakery in her village. Last year’s award-winning Malayalam movie ‘Take Off’, starring actors Parvathy and Kunchacko Boban, was based on her Tikrit ordeal. She was even honoured at the recently held Loka Kerala Sabha in the state capital.

Life, however, goes on. Many of Jose’s colleagues have returned to work in Gulf countries.

Another returnee says on the condition of anonymity that she owes her life to then Kerala chief minister Oommen Chandy and Union external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj. “Both the state and central governments toiled hard to ensure our release. We are really indebted to them,” she adds.

This nurse also testifies to the fact that they were not victimised by the militants. “We heard stories of how some women who surrendered were forced into sex slavery. We were vulnerable too, and they could have done anything they wished with us. But fortunately, we were spared.”

Chandy, who played a key role in securing the nurses’ release, expressed shock over the death of the 39 workers. “In the nurses’ case, I camped for four days in Delhi and co-ordinated with various agencies. Sushma Swaraj did good work too. We did everything in our power to ensure their safe release,” he said.

According to reports, the state government even reached out to influential Gulf-based Malayalee businessmen to ensure that the nurses were freed.