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Sushma Swaraj defends telling Parliament on deaths of 39 Indians in Iraq before informing their families

Swaraj addressed allegations that her government had withheld information on the status of the missing Indians, saying she had always maintained she would make no definitive statements without sure proof.

Sushma Swaraj defends telling Parliament on deaths of 39 Indians in Iraq before informing their families
Minister for External Affairs Sushma Swaraj, with Ministers of State MJ Akbar and VK Singh, addressing a press conference on the death of 39 abducted Indians in Iraq. (Picture: Twitter/@ANI)

NEW DELHI: External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj defended the government's decision to inform Parliament of the confirmation of the death of 39 Indians who had been abducted four years in Iraq before informing the family members.

Calling the issue one of national importance, she said she had made a promise to Parliament that she would inform both Houses as soon as confirmation on the status of the missing Indians became available. She revealed that the government had over the course of the crisis received information from different heads of states on three separate occasions that said the 39 Indians had not been killed.

"Some kin of the victims have questioned as to why they were not told about the deaths before Parliament. It is parliamentary procedure to first inform the House, so it was my duty," Swaraj said. "Some of the family members have spoken out with anger. I believe it is natural for them to be angry. I would like to assure them that at no point have I hidden anything from them. I have repeatedly told them I refuse to declare their family members dead without definitive proof. This is all I have done," she added.

She also hit out at allegations that the government had intentionally delayed telling the families and the nations of the deaths of the Indians. "I have said multiple times in both Houses of Parliament that I neither have proof that they are alive nor that they are dead, and that I would make no declaration on their status without concrete proof and confirmation. We maintained this in 2014 and in 2017. We have not kept anyone in the dark, and given false hopes to no one. The moment we had the confirmation for all 39, I went straight to Parliament to inform the Houses," said Swaraj.

"It would have been a sin to hand handed over some body to the families and claim that it is of their loved one, just for the sake of closing files. I believe the family members can have closure only once they have received the bodies of their loved ones and their last rites are done," she said. "I will personally find closure only after ensuring that the mortal remains are handed over to the family members," Swaraj added.

Swaraj said there is no reason for any of the bodies to be brought to New Delhi. She said the bodies would be taken straight to whichever part of the country they were from.

She further claimed that India is probably the only country so far to have retrived the bodies of all of its citizens who were killed in ISIS-controlled areas, and pointed out that many other countries had lost their citizens in Iraq and Syria.

Swaraj also outlined some of the events leading to the confirmation of the deaths of the 39 Indians. She said she had on numerous occasions used back-channels to approach a number of countries in the region for any information they may have come across about the missing Indians. She said the Ministers of State, especially VK Singh, had visited Mosul in relation to the search for the missing Indians at least thrice since the fall of ISIS fighters in the ancient city. She also gave some details of the mass grave found near Mosul, which contained 39 bodies, and that it had taken days to confirm the identities of each of the bodies using DNA tests. 

She also expressed disappointment over the politicking over the issue.

"Today, Congress indulged in very low level politics on this issue. Probably, the Congress president decided to ask Jytiraditya Scindia to lead protests in Lok Sabha after seeing that there had been no uproar in the Rajya Sabha," she said.

Earlier in the day, Swaraj had made separate statements in the Rajya Sabha and the Rajya Sabha, confirming the worst, that the 39 Indians who had been abducted in Iraq and have been missing for four years, were dead.

The identities of 38 of these Indians had been confirmed by DNA tests. The reamins of the one other Indian has had a 70 percent match in the DNA test, she told Parliament.