In the second week of June 2014, Indian officials in Baghdad announced loss of contact with 40 Indian construction labourers; many of them were from Punjab and were working on a government construction project in Mosul. While, it was not instantly known when the Indians were killed, but later on their bodies were recovered from a mass grave in Badosh, a village in northwest of Mosul, and their identities were established through DNA testing. In July 2017, Swaraj told Parliament that she would not declare the 39 Indians dead without concrete proof. She and the government kept everyone in speculations by giving false hopes. She had also said that the government would continue the efforts to trace the missing Indians. New Delhi had sought Iraq’s help in locating the missing Indians after Iraqi forces recaptured Mosul from IS. Finally, the mortal remains of the dead are brought back to India on a special plane and are handed over to their relatives.
ISIS in Mosul kidnapped 39 Indian citizens in 2014. Until October 2017, both India and Iraq had maintained that all 39 could be alive. The whereabouts of the 39 Indians who were working in the war-torn Iraqi city Mosul remained unknown for three years. Thousands of Indians living in Iraq fled the country during 2014 as the Islamic State advanced. The Indian Embassy and the external affairs ministry have been using various diplomatic channels to establish contact with the abductors as well as the abductees. They were also in touch with the families of the abductees. But the government has never been in direct negotiation over the release of the men and has not confirmed if they have any concrete evidence whether they are alive.
Many Indians were stranded in different parts of Iraq during war, which was facing a grave danger to its very existence. The fanatic Islamist organisation ISIS took charge of Iraq’s second largest city Mosul. It has committed terrible atrocities and then moved towards the national capital Baghdad to overthrow the elected government. According to an estimate, thousands of Indians were working in oil and construction industry across Iraq. There are many Indians, who are in the healthcare sector.
Despite a government ban on working in Iraq, many Indians travelled to the war-torn country to gain employment by using the UAE and Kuwait as a transit route.
These workers come to the UAE on visit visas and take up menial jobs for a month to a year while waiting for agents to liaise with recruiting companies based in the UAE to get them Iraqi employment visas or entry permits.
Iraq requires a large number of labourers as a lot of reconstruction work is going on to rebuild the country.
In 2004, the Indian government imposed a ban on travelling to Iraq after the abduction of three Indian truck drivers. But, Indian workers pay as much as Rs 1.5 lakh in cash to the agents, who promise to take them to Iraq through the UAE to work as drivers, plumbers or labourers for American and Iraqi companies.
At least 50,000 Indians could be working in Iraq and most do not have any valid documents with them. The dangerous condition in Iraq has not deterred these workers to get employment there. Because, some of them have taken huge loans to get there and work in Iraq, so that they can send money to their families.
India is the worst at labour rights and also lacks employment for everyone. These people need some resources to survive, which is the reason they chose to work in risky atmosphere. They just want to go and are ready to take all kinds of risks. They really don’t care if the bombs kill them or they get kidnapped. All they want is to earn some money for their families. Indians break the norms, despite being fully aware of the employment restrictions placed on them. The maximum that Indian government can do is to prevent them from going to Iraq by issuing advisories and stamping their passports. When they leave India, they do not indicate that they intend to go to Iraq; once they are out of the country, no authority can physically prevent them from leaving the second country like the UAE to travel to Iraq. As per the impediment, no Indian can go to work in Iraq. However, many come through the UAE and Kuwait and recruiting agents from these two countries bring them into Iraq.
Indian record of recognition of labour rights and wage levels are already very low, which are going to get aggravated for the ease of doing business. It is surprising and paradoxical that competitiveness of Indian products is not encouraging in spite of the labour cost advantage. The onus on labour to produce more and work for long hours can be attributed to low technologies and high profit seeking capitalists. Contrarily, services sector is doing much better where Indian human resources contribute enough to generate handsome surpluses. Trade unions have been weakened — both in public and private sector as owners have mostly planted bought leaders, who function like middlemen for margins. In fact, ever since the collapse of erstwhile Soviet Union Labour rights are trampled all over the third world and China to become global suppliers amidst cut-throat cost competition. Positive aspect of Chinese labour is that their wage levels are much better than Indians and quality of work life is facilitated. The needs of life and priorities force these Indian labours to seek employment wherever it could be.
Iraq was not at peace during war time, this sectarian rift emboldened ISIS, as its leader announced the setup of the caliphate, his own proto-state, from the city’s famous al-Nuri grand mosque. In the wake of all this, 39 Indian workers were trapped and lost their lives. Multiple sources, other than Masih, had confirmed by the end of 2014 that the Indians were no more. However, the government persisted on its strange perception that it had sources that would confirm in writing that the 39 were alive, almost dismissing his eyewitness account. A battle of narratives and counter-narratives ensued, with New Delhi conflicting any report suggesting that the men had been killed within days of capture itself. Anyway, all speculations ended with the remains of fellow Indians. Hope that hereafter, government and its people will take some lesson.
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