Harjit Masih, 25 (Gurdaspur)
Escaped from war-torn Mosul, Iraq
Earning around Rs 250 a day working as a daily wage labourer, Harjit has few off days such as Christmas. Wearing a black overcoat over a yellow shirt and black trousers, he is gathered along with others to enjoy Christmas festivities at one of the two churches in his native village Kala Afghana in Gurdaspur district of Punjab on Friday evening.
Present at the church with cousins and friends and swaying to the loud music, Harjit says, beaming, “This is the only day that brings happiness to all of us. I am happy today.”
He hushes those who approach him attracted by his reputation that precedes him, of being the only one among 40 Indians captured by the Islamic State in Mosul, Iraq, in June 2014 to have escaped. This day, Harjit doesn’t want to talk about that dark time.
Harjit was abducted on June 11 but claims to have managed to escape four days later from the thread factory where he was held captive along with the other Indians.
He has paid a price for talking earlier. Allegedly kept by the government in custody for a long time after his return from Mosul, he was targeted about his claim that the other 39 kidnapped with him had been shot by the IS and may be dead — the government continues to claim they are safe.
Harjit is almost angry when asked as to what he brought back from Iraq during his escape:
“I could bring back almost nothing. I came back to India in the same clothes I had carried with me while leaving for Iraq. I stayed in Delhi for a few months under the protection of the Government of India and they bought me some more clothes as well as shoes. There was nothing else I could bring.”
Harjit claims he earned more than the equivalent of Rs 1,000 a day as a construction worker, counting overtime, in Iraq before the IS-led war.
His life may not be much now, but Harjit realises how lucky he is every time he thinks about what he barely escaped at the hands of the IS. He thanks god often, he says.
Bitter at how he has been treated by the authorities, Harjit adds, “I do labour. The government gave me no financial support. I have to support my family and myself. We are four brothers and sisters and all are unmarried. I am supposed to be the one to get married first, but before that, I have to get a stable job to support a family. Let’s see what happens in the future. On this day (Christmas), I can only pray for better.”