Begusarai: The image of a sobbing labourer sitting by a road in Delhi symbolised India’s migrant crisis two months into the lockdown. The image moved everyone, and Bihar opposition leader Tejashwi Yadav even changed his profile picture to the weeping face of Rampukar Pandit — the Bihari migrant in the May photo who had set out on foot to reach home to be with his ailing son.
Back home in his Begusarai village, Pandit’s son died the same day, shortly after the photo was taken.
The Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) leader was aggrieved enough by his story and the viral photo to promise Pandit financial aid and a job. He also spoke to him through a video conference and instructed one of his party workers to provide assistance.
This was a time when the country was taken aback by the scale of the migrant crisis, which highlighted the ill treatment of workers and lack of employment. The government also drew flak for not having taken “adequate steps” to avert the crisis.
Now, six months later, Pandit still hasn’t got that promised job. He is struggling to find any work in his village in Begusarai.
Speaking to ThePrint, Pandit said he called Yadav’s staff several times but nobody answered his call.
“I met one of the party workers for assistance but he said everyone is busy in election and asked me meet him after election. No job was given as promised. I am searching for a job in village. Here crop season is over. I will try to get a job in potato sowing season,” he said.
The district president of RJD, however, disputed Pandit’s claims.
“We supported him financially when he came from Delhi. State office gave him Rs 1 lakh and the district office gave him Rs 30,000 besides food grain. Tejashwi ji had promised him a private job. I have told him we will help him in finding a job after the election. We are not in government so we can’t provide him a government job,” said Mohit Yadav.
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How the photo came about
Rampukar Pandit had gone to Delhi around Holi (in March) in search of a job as there was no employment opportunity in his village. He found a job at a construction site in Najafgarh on the outskirts of the capital. But the lockdown was announced soon after.
He decided to return to Bihar in May. Unable to find any transport and left with no money, Pandit started to walk home from Najafgarh.
On the Nizamuddin bridge, the police allegedly “abused” him, and he broke into tears. It was at this moment, Pandit said, that a PTI photographer clicked his photo, and it went viral. Pandit became the face of lakhs of migrants who were stranded on roads during the nationwide lockdown.
He somehow reached the Gazipur bridge where he met a social worker who then funded his journey to Begusarai by train and gave him Rs 5,000. “Salma ji (the social worker) provided food before she got a ticket for me to return to Begusarai,” he said.
“First time when he went to Delhi, demonetisation happened. This time lockdown happened. And he lost someone during both times — a family member last time and his son this time. Now I have said he will not go to Delhi whether we survive here or not,” said his wife Bimala Devi.
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The return to Bihar
After returning to the village, Pandit was quarantined in a school. When he finally reached home, he got a call from Tejashwi Yadav, who promised immediate help and a private job. “He even gave his number and said if I have any problem, I can contact him,” he recalled.
This didn’t fructify for him. But he didn’t receive any assistance from the Nitish Kumar government either.
Pandit’s Bariyarpur Purvi village is represented by Giriraj Singh, Union Minister for Fisheries, Animal Husbandry & Dairying in the Narendra Modi cabinet. His village falls under the Assembly segment represented by a ruling Janata Dal (United) leader.
While some social organisations did help him with food grains for survival, no public representative or administration member aided him.
Soon after the lockdown, CM Nitish Kumar had announced that a skill centre would be established and Bihari workers won’t need to go outside the state for work. PM Modi also launched the Garib Kalyan scheme for six states, including Bihar, but many workers like Pandit did not get jobs and incentives.
As the Grand Alliance chief ministerial face, Tejashwi Yadav has promised 10 lakh government jobs if elected to power. But in the absence of job opportunities in villages, migration to Delhi and other big cities has started again.
‘Will vote for anyone who gives jobs’
A Kumhar by caste, Pandit and his father used to make pottery. But Pandit could not continue after suffering a fracture in his leg.
Now without work, he is dependent on donated food grains and borrowed money. His children are not attending school, and Pandit is trying hard to get a job as he waits for the end of the assembly elections and beginning of the potato season.
Asked who he will vote for, Pandit said, “Anyone who provides us with jobs.”
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So sad this happened in my country, it pains my heart to see him crying. At least let us accord him some dignity and stop publishing this picture where he is seen crying.
If you are so particular, post a normal picture of him and continue your journalism. No man or woman would want a picture of him when he is crying to become the news of the country. Journalism too should be sensitive to human feelings.
Atleast someone cared to verify the present status when the pictures where not viral? Just keep doing the right thing The print! Well done
This is what i call real journalism. Following up on the stories and the plight of people, what happened to the promises made.. Great job!
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