The reopened Indian school in Tripoli. Picture by Somarajan Peralummoottil
New Delhi, Dec. 14: Anish Sadanandan’s agony stretched nearly two years longer than the bloody civil war in Libya that uprooted his family as firmly as it ended Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year reign over the oil-rich nation.
Airlifted out of Tripoli amid an Indian exodus in February 2011, when the Libyan revolution was at its violent peak, Sadanandan returned eight months later, when television screens were flashing images of rebels kicking and stabbing Gaddafi to death.
But the 42-year-old sales manager with a global medical services firm, who had spent the previous 12 years in Libya, was torn between a still-volatile Tripoli and the stability of his home in Calicut while deciding his family’s future.
That changed two months ago, when India rented a two-storey, baby-pink building in Tripoli that Sadanandan’s six-year-old son walks into every weekday morning, and which has quickly evolved into a symbol of the return of a community known in Libya for saving lives.
“I’m finally settling here again,” Sadanandan said over the phone.
So is one of India’s most popular expatriate groups. India has quietly reopened a school in Tripoli, barely 34 months after shutting it and evacuating most of its 18,000 citizens from Libya.
Slowly, cautiously, it is rebuilding a community of Indian doctors, nurses and medical sector professionals like Sadanandan that was courted by Gaddafi, and is being equally strongly persuaded to return by the dictator’s successors in power.
Only about 1,000 Indians remained in Libya after Operation Safe Homecoming. But many of those who left, and several others who had only read about Libya, are coming to the war-ravaged nation that is desperately starved of qualified medical professionals.
Today, the Indian community in Libya totals 6,000, made up mostly of doctors, nurses, professionals in the medical industry like Sadanandan, paramedics and their families, Indian ambassador to Libya Anil Trigunayat said.
“We still have to be very careful about the safety of our nationals, and ensure they aren’t exposed to risks in far-flung parts of Libya,” Trigunayat told The Telegraph. “But we’ve made a new beginning in a country where much has changed but a deep respect for Indians remains a constant.”
Trigunayat said the Libyan health minister had personally requested him to facilitate the return of more Indian medical professionals. Before they were evacuated, many of them headed key departments at Libyan hospitals, armed with training few locals possessed.
A Libyan delegation is visiting India to negotiate deals with hospitals to loan doctors, and Indian medical services firms Apollo and Religare are eyeing Libya as a market to set up labs and clinics, senior officials said.
Trigunayat and the Indian embassy have tried to set up a safety net for Indians, dramatically raising the medical insurance cover firms hiring them need to offer to get employee visas. All Indians are encouraged to register with the embassy, to facilitate efforts to warn them of any emergency.
But it is the reopened school that is at the heart of efforts to build an atmosphere of trust and security for the returning Indian community, at a time terror attacks are still not infrequent and the embassy routinely needs to issue security warnings to Indian expatriates.
“I would have thought very hard before deciding on settling down in Libya again if the school hadn’t reopened,” Sadanandan said.
India started the school in Libya in 1979 — it was one of its earliest schools abroad. The school has a Facebook page through which alumni now settled across the world correspond and reminisce about their teachers and principals.
Shut down in 2011, the rebirth of the school was important to tell the Indian community that “things are getting back to the way they were”, said Rahul Mathur, whose six-year-old daughter too goes to the school.
“This school is a magnet not just for Indians already in Libya, but for those contemplating coming here,” said Mathur, a 38-year-old from Ghaziabad who works with the Libyan arm of Napmico, a major medical services provider in the Arab world.
Most English-medium schools in Libya have shifted to teaching in Arabic with the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood under Gaddafi’s successors. The Indian school, offering English-medium education under the Central Board of Secondary Education curriculum, stands out, Mathur said.
Trigunayat had turned for help to Somarajan Peralummoottil, a telecom executive who has lived in Tripoli since 1982, sent his children to the Indian school before the revolution, and chaired the institution between 1999 and 2006.
It took a year’s search before Somarajan found the building that was inaugurated on September 22 as the new Indian school. The owners of the building that earlier housed the school weren’t willing to rent it out again, Somarajan said. Currently, 36 students are studying at the school, which has started off with Classes I to V.
The school’s growth must mirror that of the Indian community in Libya, Somarajan said. Higher classes will be offered from the next academic session, and Trigunayat has asked the school to scout for Libyan students too.
“That’ll help the institution grow,” Trigunayat said, speaking of the school where the Indian Tricolour and the new Libyan flag flutter side by side, hanging from the building’s fašade. “That’s best for the Indian community here.”