It was a battle for life and death. Make it across the line, you’ll live. Don’t and you will die. Place any individual in such a situation and they discover unknown reserves of willpower and ingenuity. They find a way to survive.
Teenager Jyoti Kumari rode a bicycle with her father as the pillion rider from Haryana’s Gurugram to Darbhanga in Bihar to escape the damaging effects of the lockdown, BBC Hindi reported. The distance between Gurugram and Darbhanga is over 1,100 km.
Jyoti’s father Mohan Paswan was an e-rickshaw driver in Gurugram but had hurt his left leg in an accident in January. Jyoti had been living with her father since the accident and taking care of him.
With no work during the lockdown, Paswan and his daughter were running out of resources and money to buy food. Even the landlord, who owned their rented accommodation, was pressuring them to pay the rent, the report added.
Although Paswan was not in favour of returning to Bihar on a bicycle, Jyoti persuaded him and eventually, he agreed. It was a perilous, demanding journey and Jyoti’s bravery must be applauded. She chose to not just accept her fate but to try and change it too. For a teenager, such grit is uncommon.
But this is precisely why it hurts to see others try and take advantage of her grit and determination.
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Firstly, she did what she did because she had nowhere else to turn too. If the governments at the state level and the Centre had planned this lockdown better, she would not have had to put her life on the line. The migrants have been trapped – with no food, no money, no accommodation and no way to get back home. There is still no clear plan in place. It might not even be wrong to say that Jyoti got lucky to survive this ordeal – if she had known that a prize awaited her at the end of the ordeal would she have cycled faster?
Secondly, Jyoti had to go through this horrific experience because of India’s ill-conceived total lockdown and not because she’s aspiring to be a professional cyclist (perhaps that is why she turned down the offer). By offering a trial, India and the cycling federation has shown how it will do anything for good PR. There is a way and a mechanism in place to earn a trial, this is not it. This should not be it. So many Indians cycle all day because of their job requirements, so does that now mean the Cycling Federation might offer trials to them all?
Thirdly, the Cycling Federation is only doing what it has learned from Sports Minister Kiren Rijiju and the BJP government. It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery and after Rijiju starting doling out trials to random viral sensations, it is only apt that other Federations will follow suit.
Rijiju’s explanation for why he does something that is clearly wrong is just as baffling.
“There was an incident in Madhya Pradesh where one village boy was running. Somebody clicked a video and sent it to social media and passed a comment that he runs faster than Usain Bolt,” said Rijiju at a recent webinar organised by FICCI.
He added: “Similar thing happened in Karnataka. Even some of the professional people, some renowned people in India started saying that now this guy will bring gold in 100m. The problem is a lack of knowledge. What can I do? If I don’t respond, they will say the sports minister is silent.”
“Experts would be wondering what is this sports minister doing reacting to such amateur talks. But I have to. Because a large section of the audience, they do not know things. So I have to show them that ‘yes I am hands-on’ when it comes to Indian sports, I am there for the athlete. I will give all the opportunities to all the potential candidates. I have to show that,” the minister said.
Rijiju’s statement takes on unbelievable proportions – the sports minister of India is playing to the gallery rather than doing the right thing to show that he is ‘hands-on’. One would have reckoned that getting the various infrastructure and administrative problems sorted would have been a better way to show that he is ‘hands-on’. But because a large section of the audience doesn’t know things, the sports minister decides to play along.
Federations should know better but they too, you know, need to show they are ‘hands-on’. And that is the tragedy of it all. The romanticism of poverty and misery during the pandemic is the worst kind of apathy. There are so many ways to help all those making their way back home but a trial sounds fair. It isn’t money, it isn’t food, it isn’t medicine. It is just a trial – no win, no lose.
But given how things are, one wonders what next? Is the Athletics Federation of India going to offer trials to all those migrants who walked for days to get home?
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