Pained by the suffering and helplessness of migrant labourers, a group of people in Patiala has stepped in to give them a ‘dignified farewell’ as they leave Punjab. The group led by former Patiala MP, is not only providing langar to those walking and cycling home or leaving for their native states via Shramik trains, but also making them wear new slippers with their own hands.
They are speaking to migrants about how valuable their contribution has been in developing Punjab and telling them to return once the situation is better.
The ‘Corona Helping Group’ was born after a group of residents from Guru Nanak Nagar Colony and some employees of the Diesel Loco Modernisation Works (DMW) unit of Railways in Patiala came together and started collecting funds to help migrants. Soon, they were joined by former Patiala Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MP Dr Dharamvira Gandhi, who along with his NRI friends too contributed financially and is now spearheading the help group activities. “We are giving migrants a dignified farewell, so that they go with good memories of Punjab and its people,” he told The Indian Express.
“Pyaare pravaasi mazdoor bhaaiyon, corona sankat ki iss mushkil ghadi mein samooh Patialviyon samet samast Punjab aapke saath hai’ (Dear migrant brothers, in this tough time during coronavirus pandemic, Patiala residents and all of Punjab is standing with you), reads the banner as hundreds of migrants queue up for a hot meal being served under the railway overbridge between the bus stand and railway station in Patiala city. Among the volunteers serving the food is Dr Gandhi.
The group has also been urging the migrants to return whenever the situation normalises.
Harish Chadha (56), DMW employee from Patiala, said residents of Guru Nanak Nagar and at least 20 employees (including some officers) of DMW Patiala contributed and soon they were joined by Dr Gandhi and his NRI friends. “It all started when I and my businessman friend Vishal Mittal decided to help migrants. Initially, we provided ration to 625 migrant families who had no livelihood due to lockdown. Later, seeing migrants walking and cycling to their native states in pitiable state, we started distributing slippers to those in need. We give them dignity, we talk to them with respect and we tell them that they are the backbone of the industrial and agricultural boom in Punjab. We tell them that they must return to Punjab when the situation normalises and we will welcome them. We make them wear slippers with our own hands,” said Chadha.
Langar is being served opposite Patiala railway station from where migrants leave via Shramik trains. “We are serving rice-dal, sambhar-rice, rajma-rice to migrants leaving via trains. We arranged a cook and utensils from the gurdwara,” said Chadha, adding, “Dr Gandhi also contributed Rs 50,000 from his own pocket and together we managed to collect Rs 3.65 lakh to help migrants,” said Chadha.
Dr Gandhi, who had formed his own Nawan Punjab Party (NPP), said he just joined and streamlined the initiative taken by residents of Patiala. “My friend Tarandeep Bilaspur from New Zealand contributed Rs 42,000 and Charanjit Singh and Sunny Anand from Norway gave Rs 30,000. People just kept coming together and this led to the birth of ‘Corona Helping Group’, a small effort to help migrants with dignity. They built Punjab and now we cannot leave them helpless. Soon our group reached walking/cycling migrants on roads in Patiala, Rajpura, Sirhind and Mandi Gobindgarh where we made them wear new slippers. We gave them paranthas. We could not leave them at the mercy of governments which woke up much later and arranged Shramik trains. It’s been a week since and we have served langar to more than 12,000 migrants leaving via Shramik trains,” he added.
Dr Gandhi said that group has now also decided to serve karha prasad (sweet delicacy served in gurdwaras) to migrants leaving Punjab. “In the land of Guru Nanak, such treatment to migrants wasn’t acceptable. We couldn’t have sat silent when no one was helping them,” he added.
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