For over three decades of his life, a 70-year-old Karnataka man lived like a destitute in Uttarakhand wearing torn clothes and spending his days working at a local eatery, just to get enough food to survive. He slept at a bus stop even in bone-chilling winters.
Kenchappa Govindappa kept his plight only to himself as he spoke and understood nothing except Kannada.
However, Govindappa's long wait to reunite with his family finally ended earlier this year as he was spotted by Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) Jawan Constable Riyaz Sunkad at a roadside eatery in Uttarakhand's Chalthi village, 64 kilometres from Pithoragarh while he was going on leave.
Even after Sunkad reached his home town, Govindappa's situation kept recurring to him. He called two of his seniors who were natives of Karnataka- Head Constables Premananda Pai and Sharana Basava Ragapur, and told them about Govindappa.
The two Head Constables visited the eatery and found Govidappa in a "real bad shape".
"He was in emotional shock. He was lost for years and could not get in touch with his family or relatives," Pai told NDTV. He further added that the man knew only Kannada (a language alien to the sparsely-populated Uttarakhand village).
The ITBP jawans sought more information from the eatery-owner where Govindappa worked. The owner said Govindappa had come to this location on a truck many years ago and that he did not pay the man any money for his work.
Pai told the media that the eatery owner gave Govindappa only food for helping him with the daily chores. The ITBP jawans provided him with adequate medical care and gave him new clothes to wear.
Later, they made a video with the man at the eatery and uploaded it on social media. Although the video did not reach his family members, it reached someone who knew them.
After a few days, an advocate who knew Govindappa's family in Karnataka's Dharwad district called up the jawans.
The ITBP personnel then embarked on a 2,000-km journey to take the 70-year-old to his home which he missed for the past 30 years.
"We handed him over to his family members who were elated to see him. We were informed that Kenchappa Govindappa had six children -- four sons and two daughters. He had left home sometime in 1991 in search of a job. From Karnataka, he probably reached Maharashtra and later Chalthi in Uttarakhand where we found him," said Pai.
Talking about his long journey to help the old man unite with his family, Pai said, "How could we turn our back on someone who had suffered so much in life? It was only humane to do what we did."
The ITBP personnel, posted with the 36th battalion of the border force, have been awarded the top force commendation, in recognition of their noble work.
They have also been given the Director-General commendation role and silver disc insignia, which is meant for rendering exceptional service. The three had joined the paramilitary force around 2002-2003.
ITBP spokesperson Vivek Kumar Pandey commented, "The force is proud of the three men who did a humanitarian task beyond the call of their official duty and reaffirmed the values that the force stood for."