Thiruvananthapuram, Aug. 10: When the ringing telephone woke Nalini at 2.45am today, it was to inform her that her prayers of the past 14 months had been answered.
Her son Biju, 36, had escaped from his militant captors in faraway Philippines and would be coming home to Kerala soon.
Biju Kolaraveettil, operations manager with a garment company in Kuwait, had been abducted by Abu Sayyaff militants in June last year while visiting his Filipino wife’s family. Nalini had been praying since then.
“It was Biju’s wife Alina who first gave us the good news over the phone,” Biju’s elder brother Shybu said from the family’s home at Koyilandi in northern Kerala’s Kozhikode district.
“She said Biju was safe. Ten minutes later, Biju rang up. He said he had slipped out of the hideout when his tired abductors had dozed off.”
Biju met some villagers who took him to the police. He plans to come home with his family, Shybu said, “perhaps in a week or so after the formalities are over”.
“I knew he would come some day. I never lost hope,” Nalini said between sobs. “It’s all because of the blessings of my deity, the goddess at the Viharikavil temple.”
Militants in southern Philippines are relying on kidnapping for their survival, experts say, as funding from West Asia is drying up and a decade of US-backed military pressure is taking a toll.
Al Qaida-linked Abu Sayyaf carries out most of the kidnappings of foreigners —whom it sees as “walking dollars”, in the words of a Manila think-tank — although smaller gangs too snatch targets and sell them to the militants.
About 90 per cent of Abu Sayyaf’s funding is now sourced from kidnapping and extortion. The group has beheaded several hostages when ransom was not paid.
Nalini had refused to believe Internet reports in March about Abu Sayyaf’s Indian captive having been killed.
“I refused to buy that. Believe it or not, for the last two-three days, I had a voice telling me from inside that my son would return soon,” she said.
Biju’s abduction had taken a toll on the health of his father Narayanan, 73, who had retired from the Military Engineering Services. Shybu, who too worked in Kuwait with his brother, decided not to go back.
“When I read the news of the death of the Indian captive in March, I cross-checked with the office of the Union minister of state for home, Mullappally Ramachandran,” Shybu said.
“The minister had assigned his additional private secretary, A.R. Rajeev, to take care of Biju’s case. After verification, the minister’s office confirmed that the alert was wrong.”
On June 12, Shybu said, the family received a call from the militants themselves. “They told us Biju was alive and made him talk to us. They asked us to speed up the negotiations with the government so that they could get the ransom,” Shybu said.
Residents of the local Moodadi panchayat had formed an action committee soon after the abduction to pursue his case. The committee’s chairperson, Pappan Moodadi, was brimming with delight today.
“What greater celebration can we have than the joy of the mother who had lived with nothing but uncertainty for 14 months?” he asked.