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Indian Express Stories of Strength

Facebook and The Indian Express bring you a series on those at the forefront of the fight against the pandemic. From healthcare workers to government officials to innovators — a look at their day at work, their struggles and challenges.

From feeding the stranded to helping them get home, Delhi Samaritans become helping hand for many

The team’s efforts have likely impacted the lives of eight lakh persons in distress, gaining appreciation from authorities

June 12, 2020 8:00:17 pm

NEW DELHI: Gullena Biraiah, an octogenarian from Telangana, wanted to go on a pilgrimage to Kashi (Varanasi) in Uttar Pradesh, following a bitter quarrel with his son. But a series of miscommunications due to language barrier prolonged his journey, making him board trains to Kolkata and Odisha before he ended up in Delhi again. Before he could proceed further, he was struck by another blow—the nationwide Covid-19 lockdown.

Stranded for over 70 days at a shelter home in Delhi, Biraiah could return to his hometown in Jangaon, some 60 km from Warangal, only last week, thanks to a group of Samaritans who sent him via a special AC train. “I was helpless…I couldn’t find anyone who could speak or understand Telugu,” the 80-year-old told indianexpress.com over the phone. “It was difficult for me to explain to people what I was facing.”

Lalit Meena, a 23-year-old civil service aspirant who arranged his trip back home, recounts, “The elderly man was in distress, gesturing in sign language. I got in touch with a friend who is from Telangana to talk to him. Realising his misery, we booked his tickets to Warangal. My friend then picked him up from the station and dropped him till his village in a cab.”

80-year-old Gullena Biraiah could only reach back his home in Telangana in the first week of June.

It was not a one-off incident, though. Several people stuck in the city were helped by this team at the peak of the crisis. From providing free meals to paying for conducting last rites of someone, their efforts received plaudits from local authorities and even from popular figures like writer-lyricist Varun Grover and actor Sonu Sood, who himself emerged as a beacon of hope for thousands of migrant workers.

Moved by the plight of migrant labourers and others who were marooned in the city, Meena and a West Delhi-based restaurant owner decided to collaborate and do their bit along with some volunteers. The result: they ended up providing approximately 6.75 lakh meal packets, ration kits, clothes, hygiene essentials besides arranging train/flight tickets for migrants, says a letter of appreciation from Karol Bagh Sub Divisional Magistrate. Their drive benefitted around 8 lakh people from March 25 to June 4, the letter adds.

The idea to collaborate cropped up when 32-year-old Gurpreet Singh, who runs Sardarji Chicken Corner in Rajouri Garden, started doing ‘seva’ — the Sikh tenet of selfless service — in his neighbourhood. “I had ration worth Rs 1.5 lakh in my three outlets. By mid-March, people had nearly stopped coming to restaurants and a few days later the lockdown was announced. But seeing a number of migrants with no food and money on the road, I decided to use the ration for seva,” Singh says.

After noticing Singh’s work on Instagram, Meena contacted the former to scale up the initiative with their own savings. “Initially I thought the food drive would be enough for a week as the government would come up with a mechanism by then to help ease the woes of migrant labourers. But nothing tangible was seen on the ground,” Meena says, voicing his disappointment.

Seeing a number of migrants with no food and money on the road, I decided to use the ration from my shut restaurants for seva, Gurmeet Singh says.

To meet the ever-increasing expenses, Meena also kicked off a crowdfunding drive on Milaap. “At the peak, we used to hand out 21,000 food packets on a daily basis,” adds Singh.

SDM Karol Bagh Ankur Meshram was effusive in his praise for the team’s efforts. “There was no compromise on the quality of food they served throughout their drive. It was par excellence and my office is highly obliged for Lalit Meena and his team’s selfless services during Covid-19 period,” he says.

Several people stuck in the city were helped by this team at the peak of the crisis.

Having wrapped up their food drive, Meena and Singh are now involved in assisting those seeking help to go back home. Not entirely satisfied with his efforts, Meena takes solace in the relief he and his team could bring about in this pandemic situation. “It was unsettling for me to see that elderly man in the shelter home, unable to communicate with anyone for several days. So, when he reached back home, it was as if I achieved a big milestone in my life. I can never forget that moment,” he concludes.

Both Meena and Singh recently got themselves tested for Covid after developing a slight fever. While Singh’s test came out positive, it was negative for Meena. Both of them are now in home quarantine.

Also in this series: For school principal, new role becomes a lesson in management, and patience

– With inputs from Aishwarya AVSK