"It is a sin to declare a person dead without concrete evidence. I will not do this sin," said External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday. She was making a statement on the fate of 39 Indian nationals missing in Iraq since 2014.
Swaraj was finally able to speak after three unsuccessful attempts. She was allotted time to speak on Monday evening and on Tuesday, but the House was adjourned for the day on both days due to protests by Opposition members. Her third attempt in the forenoon session on Wednesday also failed as Congress MPs demanded a discussion on lynchings and agrarian crisis.
Sushma Swaraj was allowed to speak after Speaker Sumitra Mahajan's repeated requests to maintain the order of the House.
Speaking in Hindi, Swaraj said, "There is no concrete evidence that the 39 Indians abducted from Mosul in Iraq have been killed," and added that the government would continue its efforts to trace the Indians.
"This file will not close till there is proof that the 39 Indians are dead. I will not commit the sin of declaring them dead without any evidence," Swaraj said, two days after holding talks with the Iraqi Foreign Minister on the issue.
Denying that she misled Parliament or the families of the abducted persons, she said: "I have never misled. I want to ask the Opposition what benefit will I get by misleading. What benefit my government gets by misleading the people on the issue."
Swaraj also told the House that she had spoken to her Turkey counterpart and that country had agreed to help trace the abducted Indians. "More countries are willing to help us," she said without giving the names.
On reports of pictures of abducted Indians languishing in Iraq prisons, she said her junior Minister Gen. (Retd) V.K. Singh too received such images. "We got information that Islamic State captured Indians and made them work in the agricultural land. They were later captured and lodged in Badush jail. This was nearly three years back. We don't have any information if they are still in the jail," she said.
Forty Indians, most of them from Punjab, went missing in June 2014 after Mosul fell to the Islamic State. In 2015, one of them, Harjit Masih, managed to flee from the clutches of Islamic State and said all other Indians were killed.