By Tamara Pupic
The fate of 59 Indian pilgrims who went missing following Haj stampede at centre of minister's visit to Jeddah
The fate of 59 Indian pilgrims who went missing following the stampede in Mina during this year’s Haj will be decided after completion of the identification process, Saudi authorities have assured a senior Indian minister in Jeddah.
Indian Minister of State for External Affairs VK Singh met with Saudi Health Minister Khalid Al-Falih in Jeddah to seek help of the Saudi Health Ministry to find 59 Indian pilgrims.
“The purpose of my visit is to sensitize the Saudi government to the need to focus on finding the missing pilgrims,” he told reporters at a press conference in Jeddah.
A recent stampede when two large groups of pilgrims arrived together at a crossroads in Mina, a few kilometers east of Makkah, on Eid al-Adha, resulted in a confirmed death of 77 Indian pilgrims while 59 pilgrims are still missing and 21 are receiving treatment at various Saudi hospitals.
Gen. V.K Singh visited the injured pilgrims at King Abdullah Medical Complex in Jeddah. He said the Saudi health minister had assured him that the injured Indian pilgrims were being provided with the best possible treatment.
The issue of compensation for the families of the deceased pilgrims would be decided in line with their insurance coverage, the Indian minister said. “Pilgrims who came under the Central Haj Committee and through Private Tour Operators will be the beneficiaries of insurance and domestic pilgrims will not come under this,” he added.
The Indian minister said he requested the health minister to provide conclusive evidence of those who died. “Which they have, in the form of articles found on the dead bodies. They have even taken photographs, fingerprints, DNA profiles. The pilgrims were buried in separate and marked graves in Mina,” he said.
None of the families approached Indian authorities to request the repatriation of bodies to India as they all prefer to bury their kin in the holy land, the minister said, adding that the dead bodies were being buried after completion of the identification process and in keeping with Islamic traditions.
Singh also said: “We were able to sensitize the Saudi government about the issue by stating that our dead pilgrims are to be identified as soon as possible, and that the pilgrims are to be treated well until they return home.”
The stampede resulted in at least 717 pilgrims being killed while at least 863 others were injured.
It is considered to be the worst disaster to strike the annual haj pilgrimage since July 1990, when 1,426 pilgrims suffocated in a tunnel near Makkah.