Two Indian teachers, who were rescued last week after over a year-long captivity by the Islamic State (IS) in Libya, returned home to Hyderabad on Saturday. T Gopi Krishna and C Balram Kishan arrived from New Delhi in the wee hours of the weekend.
The two teachers at the University of Sirte were abducted by Islamic State (IS) terrorists on 29 July, 2015 while on their way to Tripoli airport to return to India. External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had announced on 15 September that they had been rescued.
Gopi Krishna (40), an assistant professor at the University of Sirte, joined the university in 2007. He hails from Tekkali in Srikakulam district of Andhra Pradesh, while Balram Kishan (52), a professor at the same university joined a year later. Kishan hails from Telangana's Karimnagar district. Balram taught English and Gopi Krishna taught Computer Science at University of Sirte. They were among the four Indians kidnapped by IS on the same day. Two of them were released a few days later. Lakshmikant and Vijay Kumar, hailing from Karnataka, had returned safely following their release earlier in 2015.
“I would like to thank the Libyan Army and the Government of India, especially the Ministry of External Affairs for their efforts in bringing me safely and reuniting me with my family,” said a visibly happy Gopi Krishna while speaking to mediapersons at his residence in Nacharam. “I have already given all information to the Ministry of External Affairs as to what happened during my 414-day captivity," he said.
“We have given all the information to Ministry Of External Affairs. They have insisted that we should not reveal any information for the reasons of our safety and security as well as that of our fellow prisoners who are still in captivity there,” said Gopi Krishna and recounted a few of the harrowing details about his experience with the IS.
“In the beginning, they used to keep all of us in one place. Later, due to security reasons, they separated us. Balram and I stayed together during the entire period of captivity. They used to shift us to many places. We are not aware of the places we were taken to. There was no traffic sound near our surroundings. In fact all we could hear were sounds of bombs,” he recalled.
Krishna added that they were confined to a small room for many months with no knowledge of where they were nor about the house where they stayed. “They provided beds and pillows for us to sleep. They use to leave us free in the room, never tied us. Temperature was normal and they used to provide clothes and water only rarely for a bath,” he said.
Krishna recounted that macaroni and rice was the staple diet. The prisoners were fed once a day and twice, on the rare occasion. “One person used to come and give the food, he would cover his face. We don’t know the reason for our abduction. We used to think there might be some deal happening and that they would release us,” he said.
Despair set in though when some fellow prisoners were released within a few days of captivity while they were still held. “Though we were abducted at the same time, they didn’t tell us the reason for their (other prisoners’) release though we asked them. We thought as they are the university teachers that’s why they might have been given preference. These released captives were the ones who gave information about us to the government. There is still one Indian named Ramamurthy who is in their custody. But he was not with us,” he said.
Perhaps, being a teacher at the local university helped garner better treatment from the IS. Krishna said that none of them were harmed but instead treated with respect as they were teachers.
“The Libyan University is least bothered about us. They didn’t even talk to us after our release. We know that even they are helpless as there is no one to listen to them there,” said Krishna. “In the future I am planning to work in India or given a chance I will go abroad to a country where there is no IS. I came to know about this job through ads in a newspaper. Earlier I worked in Aurora Engineering College for 4 years,” he explained.
“They spoke in Arabic,” said Krishna. “They never used to communicate anything to us they just used to provide food and if there were any health issues, they would give us medicines on request.
I am happy that I didn’t have any health issues. Balram got BP (blood pressure) tablets on request, that too rarely,” he said.
The families of the two abducted professors suffered back home. Krishna said there was no communication from the Indian government about their status to family in Hyderabad, for reasons of security. “We would write dates with fellow prisoners who had pen and paper,” he recounted.
Balram’s family got Rs 5 lakh financial support from the Telangana government and Gopi Krishna’s family got Rs 2 lakh from the Andhra government.
Gopi Lrishna’s wife T Kalyani said they would talk to Minister Sushma Swaraj’s PA about her husband’s status and also to someone called Rasheed in the Indian embassy in Libya.
“Daily I would communicate with him through WhatsApp in the night as we are three and a half hours ahead of Libyan time,” said Kalyani. “I was told one day later after his abduction by our family members. I was very confident that he will come back safely. We have two children — one son and a daughter,” she smiled.
Krishna was abducted while on his way to India on vacation. He had crossed 20 kilometres from Libya before being abducted by the IS.
Balram declined to speak on how they were freed and how they were treated in captivity. “I can't reveal all those details to you. I have given the information to the Ministry," he said.