New Delhi: For the family Jyoti Kumari, the 15-year-old girl who cycled with her father from Gurugram to Darbhanga in Bihar, the news reports that she turned down a training offer from the Cycling Federation of India (CFI) has come as a surprise.
Her older sister, 21-year-old Pinky Paswan, told ThePrint that Jyoti is miffed at the reports.
“A journalist wrongly reported that Jyoti does not want to participate in any cycle race. Jyoti was miffed,” Pinky told ThePrint through telephone. “She has been telling our mother that come what may, she would participate in races and even win them.”
Pinky said Jyoti has in fact started practising for the proposed trials after the CFI offer.
“Since the day she heard that she can participate in a competition, she has been riding her new cycle every night,” Pinky said. “We cannot send her alone for safety reasons. So she goes out with her brother-in-law and rides the cycle.”
Jyoti’s cycling feat — she pedalled over 1,200 km to bring her injured father home — has caught the imagination of the world since it hit the headlines on 19 May, with the BBC, The New York Times and even Ivanka Trump hailing it as an example of grit, endurance and love. In India, though, many found it symbolic of the struggles that migrant workers and their families have been facing during the lockdown.
The teen, meanwhile, has also decided to continue with her studies that she had quit. This, after Darbhanga District Magistrate S.M. Thiyagrajan stepped in and got her readmitted to school.
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“Jyoti has been admitted to Class 9. When we asked Jyoti, she expressed her desire to study and participate in cycle races,” Thiyagrajan told ThePrint. “The administration will ensure that her wishes are fulfilled.”
The girl who brought her father home
Jyoti’s father, Mohan Paswan, had left their village of Sirhulli, about 20 km from Darbhanga, in search of work in Delhi in 1996. For the last few years, he has been driving an e-rickshaw in Gurugram. Back home, his wife Phoolo Devi has been cooking in anganwadis for the past eight years. Together, they would earn Rs 11,000-Rs 12,000 per month for their family of five children.
On 26 January, Mohan was injured in an accident following which his wife, son-in-law and Jyoti reached Gurugram by train on 30 January. His wife and son-in-law returned in February but Jyoti stayed back to take care of him.
“That was the first time that Jyoti visited a big city like Delhi. The lockdown was imposed and we got stuck.,” Mohan said. “We had thought we would go home once the lockdown ended but my landlord started asking for rent.”
That was when Jyoti decided to cycle home with her father.
“I would use my bicycle for all household chores. When I called from Delhi and told my family that I was going to carry my father on a bicycle, my mother got tense but I was determined to come home,” Jyoti told ThePrint. “The landlady had even cut off our electricity. I told her to let us stay for one day and that we would leave the next day.”
Her father Mohan said she bought a cycle with the Rs 500 that had been credited to her Jan Dhan account.
The duo left Gurugram on 7 May and reached their village in Darbhanga on 15 May. They said the only help they got on the road was when a truck driver gave them a lift for a stretch that was covered in around one hours and a half. “Most of the truck drivers were asking us to pay Rs 3,000-4,000,” Mohan said.
Pinky said Jyoti was adamant that she would cycle despite the family’s best efforts to dissuade her.
“When she told us that she would come by cycle, we opposed it because she is a girl and her safety could have been compromised,” Pinky said. “How would she cycle among hordes of men on the roads? But she did not listen. She left Gurugram in a hurry. She called us once before leaving.”
For eight days, the family had been terribly anxious. “She used to keep us updated by calling from the phones of passers–by but the day we would not receive her call, we would stay awake all night,” Pinky says.
Mohan, however, said his family had it better than most other migrants on the road.
“We at least had one old cycle. Millions of people were going on foot with us,” he said. “There were people more helpless than us. People coming from Haryana told us even old bicycles were not available anywhere.”
Home and quarantine
Once they reached the village, Mohan Paswan was quarantined for eight days at the village government school. He returned home Tuesday evening.
Jyoti had been advised home quarantine but pictures of her being awarded cash by political leaders have led to questions about whether she really was quarantined.
Pinky said the number of visitors at their home has not decreased. “The people whom we never even dreamt of meeting are coming to our house these days,” she said. “My siblings also get emotional watching Jyoti’s story on TV.”
That Jyoti could bring home her sick father on a cycle is something that her mother is still finding hard to believe. “I hadn’t thought that she would be able to bring him home. But when she reached, people from the entire village had gathered to see her. She had reached the village at nine in the night,” Phoolo Devi said.
For Jyoti, despite the cycling dreams, education remains paramount. “My only dream is to get an education and earn a name for myself,” she said.
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