COVID-19: Migrants reach Patna after ride of a lifetime

COVID-19: Migrants reach Patna after ‘ride’ of a lifetime

Would they be allowed to enter with slippers? What would happen when the plane takes off? Would they be safe? The questions raced through the minds of 10 migrants on Thursday as they readied to fly home to Bihar, an unforgettable first flight made possible by the generosity of their employer, a farmer in Delhi.

Getting through the airport formalities was intimidating but they sought the help of an official who guided them till the plane. Excited, nervous and a little panicky as they settled in their seats, many closed their eyes as the plane taxied and then tilted sharply at take-off, Naveen Ram, among the 10 workers taking their debut flight, told PTI after landing in Patna.

Some of them put their heads down on the table in front as the plane steadied in the skies, not daring to look out of the window even when the flight landed, Naveen said.

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All 10 farm workers, stuck in Delhi because of the coronavirus forced lockdown, belong to Samastipur in Bihar. They had never dreamed they would get on a plane but they did thanks to Pappan Singh, a mushroom farmer in Delhi, who bought their tickets.

Recounting the experiences of the morning, one which they will remember all their lives, Naveen said people at the airport were looking at them when they entered the airport carrying jute bags and wearing slippers.

"We were not well-dressed like others. We didn't know what we should do next after entering the airport because it was our first experience of travelling in a plane. We took the help of an airline official," the 27-year-old said over the phone.

He, too, did not look out when the plane was taking off and landing.

But that was not the end of the thrilling ride for the group, catapulted to national news at a time when migrant stories are made of arduous journeys battling hunger and heat on foot, cycle, bus or train.

Several mediapersons were waiting to interview them when they landed at the Patna Airport after the 6 am flight from Delhi, said Naveen’s fellow traveller and co-worker Jitender Ram.

"We never expected to get so much attention. Yesterday, my friend phoned me, saying he was watching me on a news channel. We will always remember such a wonderful experience," Jitender said.

Asked whether he will come back to Delhi after the lockdown is over, Naveen said, "Definitely, we will come back to Delhi when our malik (employer) calls us."

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All of them left for Samastipur district from Patna airport.

Pappan Singh, who has helped rewrite the migrant narrative of tragedy and helplessness, said he called his workers every step of the way, from after they entered the airport to when they stepped into the plane -- asking if all was okay if they had taken their boarding passes, checked in their bags and safely made their way to the gate.

"I wanted everyone to give them respect the way I do. I was very concerned as my workers were not well-dressed like other passengers. Some of them were wearing slippers and carrying jute bags.

"I am happy that they have finally reached their home state," Pappan told PTI.

Pappan had booked tickets worth Rs 68,000 and gave each Rs 3,000 in cash so they did not face any problems when they reach their home state.

Pappan had completed all their medical formalities, in accordance with the requirements specified, so they have a smooth journey home.

"These 10 workers would have left for their homes in Bihar in the first week of April on the train but they could not go due to the lockdown," he said, adding that he had made several attempts to send them back to their home state in a Shramik Special train but could not manage to do so.

"I could not have taken a risk by allowing my workers to walk thousands of miles as it would have put their lives in danger because we are getting to know these days that migrants meet road accidents while going home," he said.

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