Amid heart-breaking stories of jobless and penniless migrant workers being forced to walk or cycle hundreds of kilometres in searing heat in a desperate bid to return home, a kernel of good news and hope has emerged from a Delhi village.
Pappan Singh, a mushroom farmer from Tigipur village in the capital, has paid Rs 70,000 for air tickets to send 10 of his labourers – migrants from Bihar – back home. He has also, for nearly two months now, been feeding and sheltering them.
For people like Lakhwinder Ram, who has worked with Pappan Singh for over two decades, this means he can return to his family with his health and dignity intact, unlike thousands of fellow labourers. This is his first air trip ever.
“I never imagined in my life I will be traveling in a plane. I don’t have words to express my happiness. But I am also nervous about what I have to do when we reach the airport tomorrow,” Lakhinder Ram, who will travel with his son, said.
“I thought I wouldn’t be able to forgive myself if something happened to them on the way. That is why I thought that the plane could send them home safely… they are like my own people,” Pappan Singh told NDTV.
The plane carrying Pappan Singh’s employees will leave Delhi airport at 6 am Thursday. They have all been screened for the coronavirus and have the medical certificates necessary for travel.
Pappan Singh has good reason to consider them part of his family – on the strength of their work he earns up to Rs 12 lakh per year from his mushroom farms.
The labourers were initially registered on the “shramik” special trains being run by the Railways. However, with soaring summer temperatures – a brutal heat wave has struck parts of north India – Pappan Singh opted to send his employees home by air.
A bus has also been booked to take the 10 migrants from the airport in Patna to their village in Saharsa district, according to Suneet Singh, Pappan’s brother.
The Tigipur village in Delhi is home to over 1,000 migrant workers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh but, unlike other parts of the country, there has been no great exodus.
This, many believe, is because of people like Pappan Singh, in whom the migrants trust and for whom they are willing to stay on, despite having no job or money.
With input from PTI