As migrant workers are returning to their hometowns amid the coronavirus pandemic, a group of people in Punjab's Patiala has stepped in to give a 'dignified farewell' to the migrants leaving the state by providing them with langar and new slippers.
The 'Corona Helping Group' was started 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 began collecting funds to help. Soon, former Patiala Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) MP Dr Dharamvira Gandhi joined in and led the group.
"We are giving migrants a dignified farewell so that they go with good memories of Punjab and its people," Gandhi told The Indian Express.
Under the railway overbridge between the bus stand and railway station in Patiala city, hot meals are served to hundreds of migrant workers.
"It all started when me, 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 a sad state, we started distributing slippers to those in need," Harish Chadha, DMW employee from Patiala, told the media.
"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," he added.
Opposite the Patiala railway station from which the migrant workers board the Shramik special trains to leave for their hometowns, the group serves langar constituting rice-dal, sambhar-rice, and rajma-rice to the workers. "The group has so far managed to collect ₹3.65 lakh, of which ₹50,000 was contributed by Dr Gandhi," said Chadha.
The former MP's several NRI friends also pitched in to help the migrants.
"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," Dr Gandhi said.
The group is now planning to serve karha prasad (sweet delicacy served in gurdwaras) to the migrant workers leaving the state.