Lockdown Heroes: A Budding Entrepreneur Comes To The Rescue Of Stranded Migrants
She ran from pillar to post and used her social media influence to get the job done. A testament to what kindness towards strangers can achieve
Saisri Akondi had come from Pune to meet a friend in Manipal, Karnataka, just before the coronavirus lockdown was announced. The 23-year old wasn’t able to do much after the lockdown came into force. Meanwhile, her colleagues at a laboratory back in Pune continued working on innovative methods to deal with the coronavirus.
"Quite honestly, I was feeling helpless and frustrated that I wasn't able to do anything worthwhile," says Akondi, a budding entrepreneur. But she got a chance to do her bit, albeit outside her field of expertise.
On the evening of 11 May, she was on a scooty with her friend when she noticed a group of migrants, including women and children, talking to the police. When she stepped forward and asked them what the matter was, they said that they were on their way to Mahabubabad district in Telangana, more than 680 kilometres away, and the local police had stopped them.They were railway construction workers who had been abandoned by their contractor after the lockdown. "I instantly thought of helping them as there were 10 very small children and a pregnant lady in the group," recalls Akondi.
Then began a seven-day struggle to send them back home. "On 12 May, I registered each one of them on the Seva Sindhu Karnataka portal. This would enable them to get movement passes within the state. They were clueless about this facility," Akondi says.
Akondi registering migrant labourers on a government portal
With the help of a group called Humanitarian Relief Society, Akondi was able to arrange for food for the migrants. She also sought the help of the Manipal police to persuade the railway authorities to let the migrants stay at the Udupi railway station until their transport was arranged.
All of them tested negative for COVID-19. Akondi next turned her attention to the women in the group—she arranged for folic acid and vitamin pills for the pregnant lady and sanitary pads and UTI medication for others.
Akondi also started posting frequently on the social media pages of the Telangana chief minister's office, Karnataka government and others seeking their attention. "It lasted for days. The migrants looked up to me, while I was running around seeking permission from the transport department and other local officials to ensure transport for them. But I never lost hope," Akondi says.
The Karnataka transport authorities gave her an estimate of ₹1.98 lakh to transport the migrants in two buses, strictly observing social distancing rules. "I knew that this amount was too big for me, but I decided to seek help from crowdfunding. I tweeted, explaining the situation to the Telangana government. I also sought the help of various friends on social media to spread the word," Akondi says.
The Telangana government finally responded, but it seemed another problem had emerged. "They were ready to pay ₹1.48 lakh, and asked me if the migrants could contribute the rest. Obviously, they couldn't. But thankfully, I was able to raise ₹50,000 through crowdfunding," says Akondi.
Everything fell into place after seven days, on 19 May, when the happy group of migrants bid a tearful goodbye to Akondi. "One of them gave me a rose as a token of appreciation for my efforts. I am close to tears, as I talk about it," she says.
They reached their destination on 20 May and are under quarantine now. "Some of them keep sending me pictures of themselves and their families. I no longer feel bad about getting stuck due to the lockdown," says Akondi. She is now working long-distance for a medical-device start-up at Pune’s National Chemical Laboratory and waiting for an opportunity to return home.