Bollywood actor Sonu Sood has been helping thousands of migrant workers, stranded in Mumbai due to the Covid-19 lockdown, return home. He is the first B-town celebrity to arrange hundreds of buses and food for daily wage workers amid the lockdown. In an interview with Outlook’s Lachimi Deb Roy, Sood says he will not rest until every migrant worker reaches home safely.
Tell us a little bit about your decision to help migrants reach home.
Initially, I didn’t have any idea about how to make arrangements to send migrant labourers home. I just saw visuals of hundreds of migrants walking down the highways with their families… the elderly people who could hardly walk, some of them being carried on shoulders. These visuals haunted me. Their faces would appear in front of me every time I would close my eyes.
I thought how could we be so ungrateful to the people who built our homes, our roads. In fact, they are the ones who run the whole country. They are the real heartbeat of the nation. So, how can we let them walk on the roads and just ignore it thinking that if it is not affecting me, why should I bother. So, I spoke to a few migrant labourers and requested them to give me one or two days so that I can get all permissions to send them back home. I assured them that I will make their journey back home as peaceful as possible.
How did you make all the arrangements?
My first step was to connect with government officials, and that’s the time when I sent the first 350 migrants to Karnataka. When I was bidding them goodbye, I was moved to see the smile on their faces and tears in their eyes. I felt that these are the only 350 migrant labourers who have reached home, but there may be millions more who are struggling to reach to their villages. So, I started connecting with a lot of government offices in UP, Bihar and Jharkhand. Finally, I was able to send few more batches of migrant labourers to their homes safely. And as we are talking now, 12,000 people have already reached their native places. I have already made arrangements for another 45,000 workers. I think I was blessed by the Almighty to carry on this task of helping them reach their homes peacefully.
Since crossing the state borders involves several logistic issues, I started speaking with government officials. I told labourers not to lose their faith in the system and to trust me. I made arrangements for their stay and told them not to walk on the highways in this scorching heat. I feel the trust factor is very important to win their hearts.
Who are the people who helped you out in your mission?
I started on my own and slowly there were people willing to help me out. A childhood friend of mine, Neeti Goel, supported me in the ‘Ghar Bhejo’ campaign. We both were running around, making arrangements with the government officials, and arranging for buses, food and stay of labourers. I am glad that I could convince all the migrants that I could take the responsibility of sending them home safely. I am happy that I could speak to the government officials and I could put all these things together.
What arrangement did you make for their food?
To make their journey back home comfortable, we are also making arrangement for their food and water. We are preparing boxes of fruits and dry snacks so that they don’t feel hungry or thirsty during the journey. During this pandemic, we feed almost 45,000 people almost every single day so that their wait is less painful.
I started with the job of sending migrants back home the day lockdown started, and I will not end this task till the last migrant reaches home. We are working day and night to reach out to everyone so that all of them can reunite with their families.
Do the migrants try to get in touch with you after they reach home?
When they reach home, they always call me and make me speak to their families. They send a lot of messages, voice notes. That makes me feel happy. Initially, I used to get sleepless nights to see how eager and desperate they are to reunite with their families. Every day, for about 20-21 hours, I am speaking to them to plan for them to reach home. This is my only job now. I try and reach out to every single call that I get from these migrants. I feel extremely happy to see their pictures they send when they reach home.
There are many logistic issues involved. How you are handling it?
True, there is logistic that is involved in this task and I had to take a lot of permissions. I am glad that I was able to take those. But as I mentioned, this is just the beginning of the journey. There are millions of migrants who are stuck, but I will not stop at this. I will continue to do my duty till the last migrant reaches home. Now, I feel this is my duty, my job, my responsibility and I have to make this happen.
You are doing a fantastic job. How do you feel at the end of the day?
This mission is very close to my heart and I am emotionally connected to every single migrant who gets in touch with me. I won’t let them lose their trust in humanity and the system. The best part of this duty is that I get a good sleep no matter how many hours. It is true that I too get sleepless nights because in the middle of the night I get up to check messages on social media or mail to see if anybody needs my help. I keep telling myself that there are many more people still waiting on the roads and I guess I will be able to complete with my full quota of sleep only when I am able to send all of them back home.