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Visalakshi, 33, of Krishnapuram village in Thiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, had a bed at Barasat State General Hospital for two years, listed as an “unknown” patient because no one in the hospital staff could speak Tamil. Missing from home for three years, Visalakshi was finally reunited with her family on May 29, courtesy amateur radio operators of West Bengal and Tamil Nadu.
It was HAM operators again who helped Rakesh Singh, 34, return home to Chapra in Bihar. Rakesh, an ITI-trained technician, went missing seven years ago while on his way to Kolkata for a job. He forgot his residential address, was picked up from the streets as a vagabond, and was admitted to Diamond Harbour State General Hospital where he remained until he was reunited with his family on May 12, this time thanks to HAM operators of Bengal and Bihar.
Since February this year, HAM operators of Bengal say, they have coordinated with their counterparts in other states to reunite eight missing persons with their families.
“Visalakshi was admitted to the hospital on March 19, 2015, when police picked her up as a vagabond. After psychiatric treatment, she improved three or four months ago,” said Subrata Mondol, superintendent of the Barasat hospital. “But we could still not get her name and details because she spoke only Tamil. Then we looked up numbers of HAM radio operators from the Internet and called them. Through their help, her village was identified and she returned to her family, which gives us great pleasure and satisfaction.”
“We got a call from the hospital saying they have a patient, a missing person,” said Ambarish Nag Biswas, secretary of the West Bengal Radio Club (Amateur Club), and an employee of a state-run dairy farm. “The hospital said they could not understand the language. We went there and tried to help.”
They broke the language barrier by calling in HAM operator P Gopinath, a student at Indian Institute of Engineering Science and Technology in Shibpur, Bengal. Doctors too brought in interpreters. Other HAM operators in the team included schoolteacher Manas Mukherjee and college student Sourav Sadhukhan.
Once they got to know where Visalakshi came from, they used the radio to get in touch with Tamil Nadu HAM operators and got her to talk to them. Authorities in Chennai were alerted and HAM operators too started searching for her home, but they failed to locate her relatives from the address identified.
“After she had gone missing, family members moved to a village 12 km from their home,” said Subir Dutta, president of the radio club. “HAM operators traced that house and got the patient’s brother, Damodharan, to speak to her. Later, HAM operators in Chennai brought Damodharan a ticket to Kolkata. It was an emotional reunion at the hospital. Authorities of the hospital and we arranged for tickets home and they reached there on June 2.”
Visalakshi’s husband was suffering from cancer a few years ago when she fell mentally ill and went missing after leaving home to meet relatives. Her husband died some time later.
“We searched temples and hospitals in Tamil Nadu, Hyderabad and other places for months. By the grace of God and the help of these people, we have found her. I have no words to thank them,” Damodharan said over the phone, before leaving for Chennai.
HAM radio is a hobby that networks operators who use various kinds of radio equipment to communicate with one another for public services, recreation and self-training. This, after taking an examination and getting a licence from the central government.
An estimated three million people around the world are involved in HAM radio operations.