New Delhi: Increasing hopelessness seems to have enveloped families of the 40 Indians abducted in Iraq's Mosul by Islamic State militants six months ago.
A meeting with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj Friday saw them venting frustration at the government for "repeating old statements" and not being able to provide any proof that their kin are alive.
"The mantra (Minister Sushma Swaraj) repeated what she has been saying to us earlier. There was nothing new to add," Sardara Singh from Amritsar, whose 32-year-old son Gurcharan Singh and the family's sole earning member was kidnapped, told IANS.
Gurcharan was working as a carpenter in Mosul when he along with the other Indian workers was kidnapped from the site of a Turkish construction company in June by suspected Islamic State militants.
Harbhajan Singh, his face wizened with creases and care, said he has heard nothing from his son Kamaljeet Singh, who worked as a crane operator in Mosul.
"Mantri-ji said it will take time, that is what they have been saying all along," Harbhajan Singh told IANS.
Thirty-six families of those abducted Indian men came to meet the minister Friday.
The minister is understood to have told the distraught families that the men are known to be alive, but there is no concrete proof of it.
Malkit Singh, whose brother Paramjeet Singh is among the abducted, said they had asked the minister about the whereabouts of Harjeet Masih, one of the workers who escaped from the clutches of IS. Harjeet had said the men have been killed.
"We demanded to meet Harjeet Masih, but she said we cannot meet him. We wanted to know if he really has bullet injuries, she refused to tell us," he said.
"Harjeet Masih is supposed to be in government custody. Then why don't they know about him," another man asked.
"They said they will not allow us to meet him. How can they do this?" he added.
Harjeet Masih claimed that he and the other Indians were abducted, along with Bangladeshis, from Mosul on June 15 and taken towards Erbil, in Iraq.
The IS militants separated the Bangladeshis and Indians on the basis of religion and set the Bangladeshis free.
He claimed that the Indians were taken to an isolated spot and shot dead.
Harjeet claimed he was also hit by bullets but they only scraped his skin and he pretended to be dead. He escaped when the militants had left.
Malkit Singh said, "The minister said she has 'yakeen' or belief that the men are alive but she can't give us assurance."
"They are repeating their old empty assurances, we are depending on the government, but it is letting us down," said Pushpa, whose son Sandeep, 37, is among the abducted.
Sushma Swaraj Friday acknowledged the government "does not have concrete proof" of the men being alive or dead and is continuing to search for them based on "six indirect sources".
Speaking in the Rajya Sabha and the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj termed as "hearsay" the quotes attributed to Harjeet Massih, one of the workers who escaped from the clutches of IS and claimed the men have been killed.
"I have said repeatedly that I do not have concrete proof of them being alive, but I do not have concrete proof of their being dead too," she said.