At the outset, here’s a disclaimer. These lines haven’t been written to favour or oppose any politician, person or organization. These are an expression of the emotions evoked in an average Indian based on what he saw on TV.
I felt tearful when I saw visuals of clothes and skeletal remains on TV on Tuesday evening. Thousands of kilometres away from the Indian mainland, these were what was left of those Indians who were working in the desolate desert to make a living. A twist of fate made sure that only their bones came back to their homeland.
For the last three years, a few questions have been bothering the national psyche. Were the 39 Indians missing from Mosul in Iraq alive, or had the Islamic State (Islamic State) killed them in their quest for the blood of innocents? Harjit Masih, who returned from Mosul, claimed he, too, had been held hostage with them. That 39 people were shot in front of his eyes, but Masih escaped saying that he was a Muslim. His claim appeared to be flimsy. Do the killers from Islamic State spare someone just on the basis of being a Muslim? This is unlikely. In fact, they have killed more Muslims than kafirs (non-believers). Religion has never been an obstacle to their extremist frenzy and will never be one, since they are themselves involved in irreligious acts.
Masih’s claims sparked a debate in Parliament in which the opposition asked why the government wasn’t declaring that his compatriots were dead. I am not supporting the state, but had we taken Masih’s claims at face value without asking for evidence and God forbid, had one or two of the missing men returned, wouldn’t it have made the government a laughing stock in the eyes of the world? It is a parliamentary tradition that whatever is said is spoken with great responsibility. Sushma Swaraj carried forward the tradition last week.
I don’t want to get into the details of the ensuing outcry. The opposition has its own compulsions, but General V.K. Singh’s efforts deserve a mention here. Last July, Mosul was liberated from the killer grip of the Islamic State. Soon after that, Singh was given the responsibility of searching for the missing Indians.
I don’t want to repeat newspaper reportage, but it is worth wondering how challenging and expensive the search mission was. In the absence of prior arrangements, one hears that General Singh had to sleep on the floor along with other soldiers one evening. If another minister of state for foreign affairs has been involved in a similar mission with so much implicit danger, it’s not public knowledge. Before this, in another arduous mission in Yemen, Singh had rescued 4,640 Indians and 960 people of other nationalities. Among those rescued were American, British, Russian and French nationals. These countries are often named to criticize governments in New Delhi. But this time, we proved to be their saviours. Will we get some respite from these perennial naysayers? Looking at the mood of our formidable politicians, it doesn’t appear so.
It is a well-known fact that even before this, governments have been rescuing Indians from conflict zones, but this is perhaps the first time that so much effort has been made to look for the remains of Indians. Watching the footage available on TV, I was reminded of the Hollywood film The Water Diviner. In the film, Russell Crowe moves heaven and earth looking for his three sons who have disappeared. India also has a long history of such missions. Now that the last rites of these 39 Indians have been carried out, the question is: When will India’s retribution against Islamic State come?
All democratic governments in the world, including India, are grappling with this demonic organization, but instead of the government, I would like to know the answer to this question from our society: Why don’t we take a pledge that we won’t let organizations such as Islamic State find their feet anywhere in the country? Whenever Islamic State flags are waved in Kashmir or any other part of the country, I consider this a failure not of the government but of society. As many as 39 of its children met with an untimely end and their blood spilled in Iraq’s sandy terrain. And at the end, a question for our parliamentarians: Honourable sirs, when will livelihood be made available to the common man? Until they can earn a decent living in their own country, such heart-rending incidents will continue to take place.
Shashi Shekhar is editor in chief, Hindustan.His Twitter handle is @shekharkahin