Rampukar in hospital, pleads for help; meets wife, daughter from distance

Kunal Dutt

New Delhi, May 18 (PTI) Labourer Rampukar Pandit, whose mournful face became emblematic of the tragedy faced by poor migrants currently, has been shifted to a hospital in Begusarai district of Bihar, where he met his wife and nine-year-old daughter from a distance.

The 38-year-old man, who recently reached Bihar by a Shramik Special train, was quarantined in a school near Begusarai town after his arrival. He said that officials took him to a hospital on Sunday and conducted a test.

A despondent Rampukar, who took a long and arduous journey from Delhi to reach his hometown amid the nationwide lockdown after learning of his infant son's death, broke down when PTI contacted him over phone on Monday.

'My head spins when I open my eyes and I feel very weak. They brought me to a hospital in a car from the quarantine centre yesterday afternoon,' he said in a very feeble voice. 'They also did tests on me, by taking swabs from throat and nose. The result has not come yet.' The father, who lost his nearly one-year-old son, has been hankering to reunite with his family, but due to social-distancing norms in place amid the coronavirus pandemic, the reunion, too, meant separation.

Rampukar said his wife and daughter Poonam visited him at the hospital in Khodawandpur block of the district, but doctors allowed them to meet him briefly, only from a distance.

They had come around 4 pm on Sunday, both wearing masks and doctors told them to stand a bit far from his bed, according to Rampukar.

'We were all crying, we wanted to hug each other. I wanted to hold my daughter, but a few metres of closeness and 10 minutes with them is all I could get,' he told PTI.

'My wife and daughter brought me 'sattu', 'chura' and cucumber. But, I am too weak to eat by myself,' Rampukar said.

Later, a hospital staff served dal-rice, which he ate in the afternoon.

'One friend also came from Bariarpur, my native place, and met me today,' he said.

'I feel very weak. My children are also not eating because of my condition,' Rampukar said.

'I am the breadwinner of the family and I am down. I need help,' he said. 'I appeal to the government to help me and people like me in this tragic time. We poor will just die otherwise.' Rampukar became a snapshot of India's migrant tragedy with his photograph speaking on the phone on a Delhi roadside, touching a chord in the hearts of millions of people across the country.

After, PTI put out his pictures and subsequently his story, many people are taking to social media, offering to help him.

The powerful image of the distraught man, struggling to reach home in Begusarai, almost 1,200 km away during the nationwide lockdown, was widely shared across all media, becoming a defining image of the trauma and struggles of lakhs of migrant labourers stranded away from home. This resulted in immediate help being provided to him to reach his home in Bihar.

The construction labourer, who worked at a cinema hall site in Delhi, was spotted weeping uncontrollably as he talked on the phone by the side of the Nizamuddin Bridge in Delhi by PTI photographer Atul Yadav, who tried to help him.

Rampukar was helped eventually by a good Samaritan woman who have him food, Rs 5,500 and also booked his train ticket from Delhi to Begusarai.

He had been stuck at the Nizamuddin Bridge for three days before help arrived. A vehicle came and took him to a hospital in Delhi where he was tested for COVID-19. It was negative, Rampukar said on Saturday.

While his image were splashed across front pages of many national and local dailies and online portals a week ago, Rampukar himself has not seen the picture that shook the nation's conscience.

All that he's awaiting, is to reach his home, a journey that seems far longer than he had imagined. PTI KND HMB