Even in retirement, Bhaichung Bhutia came to serve his nation when he threw open the doors of his shelter near the borders of Sikkim to help the migrant workers who have found themselves homeless following the announcement of the 21-day nationwide lockdown.
The former India captain, in a tweet on Monday, offered his unfinished building in Lumsey, Tadong to the labourers and promised that any and all would receive the basics they needed with the help of his club, United Sikkim Football Club (USFC).
“With the lockdown, the most affected people are the migrant workers all across India. In Sikkim as well, there are thousands of people from the neighbouring states of West Bengal and Bihar who can’t cross the [state] border because they are sealed off. People have been sleeping on the roads without a roof over their heads for the past three/four days,” Bhutia told indianexpress.com over the phone.
“The migrants who were working on my building too had started leaving. To help them, I spoke to local authorities a few days back to get permission to let them stay at my place near Gangtok. Although the four-storeyed should accommodate around a hundred people, there are still structural challenges.”
I feel strongly for the migrant workers who hope to reach their homes to survive coronavirus and the nationwide lockdown. I’m offering my building in Lumsey, Tadong to shelter such workers and suggest them to follow govt’s guidelines. I and USFC will help them get the basics. pic.twitter.com/cS4hQuKwMP
— Bhaichung Bhutia (@bhaichung15) March 30, 2020
Although Sikkim has reported no positive cases of the coronavirus which has claimed 35 lives in the country so far, the state has seen workers in the unorganised sector clamour to return to their home states.
“I have asked the government for supplies and ration for the workers, and hopefully, with my club [United Sikkim], we can provide the essential services for more people. Till now, it’s around 15 people, so it’s manageable,” said the 43-year-old.
Even though United Sikkim was shut down last September to “focus on grassroot football”, Bhutia said he has ensured the club’s senior manager, Arjun Rai, can be of assistance to people. “He can be contacted on 9434117465 for any help regarding the issue,” he said on his social media post.
Apart from offering his shelter to the stranded, Bhutia has also taken part in the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) awareness programme, #BreakTheChain, along with the current India captain, Sunil Chhetri. The AFC has promoted the message of respecting lockdown rules, following WHO guidelines, and observing personal hygiene.
— AFC (@theafcdotcom) March 24, 2020
The once “Sikkimese Sniper” also heads the Hamro Sikkim Party (HSP), a political outfit, but said the current situation demands go beyond politics. “I am not thinking about the situation politically. I have asked people to pitch in individually, and if other individuals can provide to the people personally, then even better,” he said.
On March 27, Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang announced immediate measures to provide relief to the economically weaker sections. The state said families will get their share of ration and labourers will be paid a daily wage of Rs 30 for the duration of the lockdown.
In the footballing fraternity, Bhutia’s former clubs, Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have also stepped up to support the fight against the pandemic. Even his former teammates, like Mehtab Hossain and Syed Rahim Nabi, have banded together to form ‘Players for Humanity’, along with current internationals like Pritam Kotal and Pronay Halder, to help the poor.
“It depends on people to come forward to help, and it doesn’t always have to be monetary. Like the Prime Minister said, if every person can feed at least six people, then it would go a long way. On the other hand, I am sure organisations like AIFF and ISL can help in whatever capacity they can, even if it is offering stadiums as isolation centres,” he added.
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines