Sushma Swaraj's mission to find 39 missing Indians in Iraq deserves support even if odds are against it

While we can be hugely critical of the Indian politician per se, we have to acknowledge that external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj tries and is by far the finest feather in the Narendra Modi cap. Her latest crusade to find the 39 missing Indians taken into slave labour in 2014 in Badush near Mosul, deserves applause.

The moment the town was recaptured by government forces she swung into action, so there's no point asking why we waited for three years. There was no access to the region and no one to negotiate with. The Islamic State was unlikely to have responded after it took control of the area, and it is unfortunate there has been no indication of the whereabouts of the missing Indians for the past year.

File image of Sushma Swaraj.

File image of Sushma Swaraj.

The proposed visit by currently low profile and non-controversial Minister of State of External Affairs and former army chief VK Singh to Mosul is welcome even though it is a moot point he will find much success. The Iraqis are ready to help which is good but their reach is limited. The IS would have taken this free labour deeper into its territory to exploit them. We know for sure they are not in Badush jail where it was suspected they were housed. Situated 25 kilometres from Mosul central, the jail was razed in the fighting. No one is there.

Also the IS is not so kindly as to feed 39 Indians and spend money on them without making them work. If they are alive, they are in backbreaking slave labour and being abused. Let’s not have any doubts about that.

The ransom is huge for the safe return of Indians who, lured by good money, take a leap against the orders of the Indian embasies in various Middle Eastern countries. Besides, it has to be negotiated in a clutch of hours, or, the window closes.

Three years creates severe doubt. Many companies have done business in Iraq, and despite cautions, individuals do take the risk of going over to the other side. There are routes which are semi-underground and people often volunteer. Their life insurance runs into a princely sum and the 'togetherness' gives them a feeling of confidence that nothing will go wrong. Besides, the hazard pay makes it 'worthwhile'.

Unfortunately, for these 39 Indian men it went horribly wrong and one can only imagine their plight and the distress their families have been forced to undergo in the these past three years. There is very little data on who they are and whether they together or separate and how did they reach Iraq. But, they were congregated at the airport and were probably flying out when the facility was overrun by IS.

We do not know if there are more Indians in the swathes of territory occupied by IS, but is a very likely possibility. The workforce traffic was quite intense three years ago.

If Swaraj's initiative manages to pull it off and these men are found, we would be delighted to build a statue for her. Full marks for giving it your best shot. However, if one is chary about the result, it's only because Indians are not IS' favourite people and IS is not known for benevolence. Irrespective of the results, at least, there will be the comfort of closure for the 39 affected families.


Published Date: Jul 28, 2017 06:09 pm | Updated Date: Jul 28, 2017 11:21 pm


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