The last few months have been particularly hard for Gopi Krishna’s family, but now that February is round the corner, their sadness is only heightened.
In August 2015, the families of four lecturers working in colleges affiliated with the University of Sirte in Libya, learned that they had been abducted by ISIS.
S Vijaykumar and Lakshmikanth Ramakrishna of Karnataka were detained in August 2015 and later released.
However, K Balaram and T Gopi Krishna of Hyderabad were kidnapped by ISIS militants when they were going to an airport in Tunisia to board a flight back to India in the last week of July 2015. Balram is an English lecturer while Gopi Krishna handles computer education in colleges affiliated to the University of Sirte.
For over two months, there was no word on where they were.
Gopi Krishna’s older brother Murli Krishna says that the family last saw him in September 2014, when he came to India on leave. The year 2016 has only made the wait worse for them.
“It will be his 40th birthday this year on February 29, which he celebrates once in four years and we hope to see him on his birthday at least,” Murli Krishna says.
Balram’s wife Ch Sridevi told The News Minute: “Three months ago, I was informed by Indian Embassy officials and a few locals that they are being forced to teach the fighters in Sirte province in Libya. I have been calling Sushma Swaraj's PA every day. They assure me that they are safe. That is the only thing, which is giving some confidence that both of them will be back safe.
Although Sridevi’s family is behind her, she says the emotional burden of a husband whose whereabouts are not known is hers alone.
“Though my family is giving me emotional support it is really difficult to face this problem alone as I have to take care of my kids too. The central government said that both are safe and they are putting in all efforts to bring them back,” she added.
Murli says that they were planning to visit Delhi again as there had been no response from the government “except the two emails which say they are still trying hard to get him back”.
Gopi was forced to apply for jobs overseas in 2007 because the family faced financial difficulties, Murali says. Fortunately for him, when he applied to the University of Sirte, he got through the interview and he did not have to look for a job for too long.
His being taken hostage by ISIS has also affected the family financially. “I'm a private employee but we are all completely dependent on him. Now we are feeling helpless, as there is no financial assistance to our family. We are taking loans to pay our kids fees,” Murli added.
The four teachers and entwined destinies
While Vijaykumar and Lakshmikanth worked in Sirte, Balram and Gopi worked in colleges around 250 km away. “But we always went back home together, usually at the end of July when there was leave,” says 56-year-old Vijaykumar.
Vijaykumar, who hails from Mulbagal in Kolar district, has lived in Bengaluru for many years. He has given the numbers of some of his friends in Libya to the families of Balram and Gopi but says it’s of little use.
Vijaykumar with his family (Courtesy: Vijaykumar Facebook page)
“But the phone lines are down, it is impossible to contact anyone there. Some of my friends who are outside Sirte, in places like Tripoli sometimes send WhatsApp messages.”
Although it was financial trouble that pushed Vijaykumar to search for workoverseas, the people there became dear to him in the eight years he spent there.
“I miss the people and my students. It is sad to see innocent people being punished (by ISIS). The whole place (Sirte) has become a burial ground, most people have left, there are very few left behind, and some of them have been forced to join ISIS.”