The four-year-long wait of 31 families from Punjab and Himachal Pradesh ended Monday after a special Air Force plane brought back from Baghdad the mortal remains 38 of 39 Indians killed in Mosul, Iraq. The 39th body is not being brought back now since DNA testing had only provided a 70 per cent match.
Amid massive protests by Dalit groups across the state, the coffins carrying the mortal remains were escorted out of the cargo terminal of the Amritsar International Airport to their destination by Punjab police vehicles. Out of 39 Indians killed by IS militants, 27 were from Punjab and four were from Himachal Pradesh.
“The last casket was dispatched at 1730 hrs (5.30 pm) from Amritsar. We provided all the required assistance for safe transport of all the remains to their native places”, said Kamaldeep Singh Sangha, Deputy Commissioner, Amritsar.
Families of the Mosul victims started arriving at the airport from 10 am Monday and received the remains with tears while demanding that the coffins be opened. The district administration, however, refused to do so citing time constraints.
“In the last 10 days, my relatives have come to my house at least thrice expecting the arrival of my son Dharminder’s body. Eventually, he has come in this casket. I will take him home in whatever shape he has arrived. I had never expected I will receive him in this shape”, said Raj Kumar, a resident of village Talwandi Zira in Gurdaspur district.
Gurpinder Kaur from Bhoewal village in Amritsar, who has spearheaded the families’ struggle to locate their missing kin over the last four years, was at the airport to receive the remains of her brother Manjinder Singh.
“It is extremely sad that we were not allowed to open the caskets at the airport. All the families wanted to open the caskets and at least see their kin in whatever shape they have returned”, Gurpinder said.
The long distances, traffic congestion and state-wide protests meant severe delays and for many families, the remains of their kin were kept at mortuaries and will be handed over on Tuesday, sources said. In Punjab, remains of seven Indians killed in Mosul were kept at the Jalandhar civil hospital mortuary and two each were kept at hospitals in Hoshiarpur and Balachaur. In HP, mortal remains of three men were kept at the Nurpur civil hospital mortuary while one was kept in the mortuary of a hospital in Tanda, Kangra district.
“We got delayed and since families do not perform last rites after sunset, we have kept the remains in mortuaries. We shall hand over the remains to the families tomorrow (Tuesday) morning”, said Jalandhar’s Deputy Commissioner Varinder Sharma.
Punjab government’s Local Bodies Minister Navjot Singh Sidhu, who received the mortal remains on behalf of state government, announced Rs 5 lakh compensation and a job to one family member of each of the 27 Punjab natives who were killed in Iraq. Sidhu said that the ongoing monthly assistance of Rs 20,000 from the state government would continue.
“Forensic examination conducted in Iraq revealed that some of our men were shot dead, while the exact cause of death was not given in other cases. The forensic examination was also not conclusive of when all these men were killed. The forensic examination, however, hinted that the men were killed more than a year ago”, said Minister of State for External Affairs, VK Singh.
Singh said the families were also given the DNA-sample matching reports with the remains of their kin. Politicians from across the parties reached Amritsar airport today morning and expressed their solidarity with the grieving families.