An Indian tragedy in Iraq

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When people leave their country’s shores to earn a living, they leave with a million dreams in their eyes and hopes in their hearts. Many of these dreams and hopes come crashing down to earth, at the first encounter with reality.

Some spend all their lives thousands of miles away from home, indeed more than half of their lives, without earning or saving anything. They just hang on to meet the expectations of loved ones back home. Others are fortunate enough to find more than their expectations.

There are others who are fortunate enough to find more than their expectations and can afford to go home. However, they are too scared to do so. They cannot bring themselves to face the realities back home.

So they go on with their monotonous lives that offer them the reassuring routine of living in a protected cocoon. This may be why when they eventually go home, in their twilight years, they do not survive long. The shock of change and unsettling realities of life back home prove too overwhelming for them.

For the large majority of dreamers though, it is an endless daily struggle for survival. They long to go home and be with their loved ones but cannot do so. Responsibilities back home never seem to end. So they must plough on, day after exhausting day.

Many of these expatriates, especially those in the Gulf, live alone; sometimes because of their children’s education and sometimes because they simply cannot afford to keep their families with them. Living alone, especially as you grow older, is not easy.

Yet they go on against great odds, to keep the home fires burning. The folks back home often have no idea or do not seem to care what they go through to keep up with appearances.

The 39 Indians apparently killed by Daesh (the so-called IS) in Iraq must have come to the region like so many of us, dreaming of a better and secure future for their children.

The list of Daesh’s high crimes against humanity has been endless. But this must be one of their worst and most heinous. There’s not a greater crime than taking an innocent life. In Howard Zinn’s words, there is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.

It seems all the more cruel when the victims are helpless, innocent men, who are thousands of miles away from home to earn a living. Their only crime was being at the wrong place at the wrong time, apart from following a ‘wrong’ faith perhaps.

Which was perhaps a bigger ‘crime’ in the absurd world of binaries that the Daesh spawned in its short burst of existence. However, the damage it has inflicted on an already battered image of Islam and Muslims is incalculable. It made us all hang our heads in shame, again and again. The fact that an overwhelming majority of Daesh’s victims, as has been the case with other terror groups, have been Muslims offers little comfort.

The news of tragic killing of 39 Indians, after four years of painful suspense, has once again shamed us all. The incredibly inept handling of the issue by the Modi government, ever ready to throw its weight around and take credit for everything, has only added insult to injury, outraging people in and outside India.

For more than four years, the Indian government kept assuring everyone that it is “in touch” with the missing Indians in Iraq and is “doing everything possible” to bring them home.

This charade went on even when Mosul, the ancient Iraqi city that had been in the Daesh control and where these innocent men were supposed to have been kept, fell after much bloodshed and loss of thousands of lives. Even the Badush prison outside Mosul where these men were apparently kept was leveled to the ground.

Part of a group of construction laborers held by Daesh shortly after the fall of Mosul in June 2014, they had last contacted their families in the middle of that month saying they were being held in a basement while fighting raged outside.

Even since there had been no word from them except for the version of Harjit Masih, the 40th hostage who had managed to escape. Masih claimed to be the only one to escape alive from the clutches of the terror group.

His account, however, was never accepted by the government. In fact, instead of being quizzed for more details, Masih had to spend six months in prison on the charges of spreading ‘rumors’!

Even after the truth emerged with an Iraqi NGO, Martyrs Foundation, confirming that it had matched the DNA of the 39 Indians in a mass grave outside Mosul, the Indian authorities did not see it fit to share the news with the victims’ families but chose to announce it in parliament, as if it was yet another government achievement! Imagine the shock that the poor families must have received upon learning about their loss through the idiot box!

Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj has earned many plaudits in recent years, especially among Indians abroad, for her sensitivity and prompt response to their issues and concerns. However, she does not come through this unfortunate episode with flying colors.

Since it took charge in 2014, the Modi government has made at least six statements in parliament on the issue, and every time it claimed that 39 Indians in Iraq were “alive” and it was in touch with them.

Imagine the trauma of 39 families, hanging between hope and despair for four long years, only to find all their hopes dashed in the end.

Given the fact that South Asian nations like India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka receive billions of dollars in foreign remittances, thanks to the hard work of their citizens in the Middle East and elsewhere, the least their governments could do is move quickly to help when the diaspora finds itself in distress.

Years ago, writing in these columns, I had argued that the relentless struggle of men and women who wander off far from home to earn a living and to give a better life to their families against great odds was nothing short of jihad.

They go through the pain of separation from their loves ones for years and a great deal more in an alien land so their children or brothers and sisters could have a home, get a good education and realize other dreams.

This is what the 39 unfortunate men, who were apparently killed last year in Iraq’s Mosul, would have dreamed for their families. All those dreams are now shattered, rolling in the dusty plains of Iraq, which have soaked up so much blood and suffering over the long centuries and especially over the past couple of decades. The least governments can offer to the families of victims in these circumstances is truth and transparency, not politicking and grandstanding.

— Aijaz Zaka Syed is an award winning journalist and editor. Email: Aijaz.syed@hotmail.com


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