“Papa, we shall go back home,” suggested the 15-year-old girl. “But how will we go, beti? No trains or buses are running during these lockdown days,” replied her worried father.
The lockdown days became very tough for Mohan Paswan, like thousands of migrant labourers across the country. The landless villager from Darbhanga district of Bihar had been earning his livelihood in Gurgaon, near Delhi, driving a hired autorickshaw for the past 20 years.
When he met with an accident in January, this year, his wife Phoolo Devi and daughter Jyoti Kumari came to Gurgaon from their village to take care of him. But Phoolo Devi had to return home within ten days as she is working as a cook in the village anganwadi and also had to take care of the two daughters and two little sons left behind at home. Leaving Jyoti to take care of her father, Devi returned home. Jyoti had dropped out of school after her 8th grade due to the poor financial situation at home.
Because of the prevailing lockdown, from March 24, Mohan could not earn anything. The owner had already taken away the auto. All the money that he had, and rations too got over. As he could not pay the monthly rent, the owner of the room they are staying asked them to vacate it, and had even cut off the electricity. So there was no option, but to return to their far away village. But how?
“I shall take you by cycle,” Jyoti told her anxious father. “Have you not treated me like your eldest son, Papa? Whenever you come home, do I not take you around the village by cycle?”
They withdrew the Rs 1,000 the government had deposited in the bank for migrant labourers, bought a second hand cycle from a friend giving him Rs 500 and, promising to pay the balance amount later. Rs 500 was kept back to meet their expenses on the way, and they left on May 8 for their home in Bihar. Wiping his tears, Mohan sat on the carrier along with their bags, all the way wondering whether she would be able to ride the cycle the long distance of 1200 kms, with him sitting behind.
As she went pedalling, some people on the way ridiculed him, saying, “See the huge fellow sitting behind a kid! No shame!” As Mohan began to shed tears again, Jyoti comforted him saying, “Don’t worry, Papa. They don’t know that your leg is fractured!”
Since petrol pumps were open at night, they halted for the nights there. Hearing their sad story, the workers took care of them, even providing them food. Later, seeing their plight, a truck driver gave them a lift for a short distance. Riding more than 100 km a day, for ten days, they reached their Sirhulli village exhausted on May 17. When the whole village welcomed them with cheers, they forgot all their hardships.
Hearing of their adventurous 1200 kms cycle journey, the media began highlighting it. Excited by the news about this poor, school drop-out girl from an obscure village, LJP President Chirag Paswan announced that he would finance her education; former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati, promised a job for her father and later on to meet her marriage expenses. Union Minister Ashwini Chowbey suggested that she become a brand health ambassador and in his turn, Union Minister Ramvilas Paswan recommended her to the Sports Ministry.
Omkar Singh, Chairman of the Cycling Federation of India, invited Jyoti to New Delhi. “If you pass the trial, you will be selected as a trainee at the state-of-the art National Cycling Academy. We will pay you and one who accompanies you A/C tickets, free accommodation and food. You have great guts, Jyoti. You will do it,” he assured her.
When Ivanka Trump, daughter of U.S. President Donald Trump, tweeted about the lionhearted girl, the whole world came to know this hitherto unknown girl. Deciding to make a biopic on her, filmmaker Vinod Kapadia remarked, “Jyoti is an inspiration to girls, everywhere. We need to make a film on her!”
Do keep it up, Jyoti. The Teenager Today and all our readers wish you all the best!