'Daughters are a blessing, should've educated her': Migrant father of teen who cycled over 1,200 km to bring him home sees her in new light
Cycling single-handedly for over 1,200 kilometres along with her 45-year-old ailing father, 15-year-old Jyoti Kumari reached her Sirauli home in Bihar's Darbhanga after a week-long journey from Haryana's Gurugram last Saturday.
Cycling single-handedly for over 1,200 kilometres along with her 45-year-old ailing father, 15-year-old Jyoti Kumari reached her Sirauli home in Bihar's Darbhanga after a week-long journey from Haryana's Gurugram last Saturday. Her mother, Phulo Devi cried tears of joy as the father-daughter duo finally reached home. She recalls, “I honestly didn’t think they would make it. It was such a long and difficult journey.”
A migrant worker and an e-rickshaw driver in Gurugram, Jyoti's father, Mohan Paswan, was injured in an accident in January. Add to that the lack of income and pressure from the landlord to vacate their one-room house in Gurugram.
"The accident left me bedridden for months. I was also taking medication during this period. After two months (in March), since we had no money left and we had already taken loans from people we knew, we were left with no option but for me to go out and start working even though the doctor had recommended bed rest," Paswan said.
Unemployed and broke, Paswan was under immense stress. But his teenage daughter came to his rescue.When they saw migrant workers leaving for their hometown on foot, Jyoti came up with an idea. She asked her father for whatever little money he had left with and set out only to return with a second-hand cycle. Jyoti paid the vendor Rs 500 and promised to pay the remaining Rs 500 after they returned.
"The person who sold us the cycle saw that we were in a bad condition and agreed to sell us a cycle on loan," she said, "If my father could walk, we wouldn’t have had to buy this cycle."
Hesitant and afraid of what might happen on the way, Jyoti’s father had initially refused. "After Jyoti bought that cycle and said that she wanted to drive it all the way to Darbhanga with me riding pillion, I thought she was joking. But she made it possible," Paswan said.
“My father wasn't okay with this arrangement because he thought I might die on the way. I had to convince him a lot. I knew if we somehow reached our village, we wouldn't have to starve. Do waqt ki roti zarur mil jayegi wahan (we would, at least, get two square meals in our village)," Jyoti said.
Describing their miserable financial conditions, Paswan said that they did not even know how they would manage their next meal: "We had used up our savings in the past two months and the loan we had taken. We didn’t know how to pay for the room. We hadn’t eaten a proper meal in weeks. When it got too difficult for us to manage, and the landlord asked us to vacate the room, my daughter said she will take care of me and drive me home on a cycle. Even though I didn’t want to put her through so much exhaustion, I knew we would have died of starvation if we didn’t do something.”
Paswan's eyes, however light up, when he talks about his daughter's courage. "After Class 8, Jyoti had to discontinue studies because we did not have money. What could I do, I have four other kids to take care of and an e-rickshaw driver can only do so much. I feel so proud of her and commend her courage. I regret that I was not able to invest in her studies," he said, "People who think that daughters are a burden on society should meet my daughter. Daughters are a blessing."
Jyoti and her father started from Gurugram at 11 pm on 8 May due the fear of the police. "We started late because we didn’t know how the police would treat us," she said. Their luggage included her and her father's clothes with some chewda, the only food at their disposal. "Chewda is cheap. So, we bought it in huge quantities. We ate it as a meal for many days," Jyoti said.
Along the week-long journey, they had trouble finding food and shelter. Jyoti was very tired in the first few days. "Initially, we found it really difficult. We didn’t have enough food with us, I was sleep deprived but after some days we started finding kind people on the road who offered us biscuits, fruits and water," she said.
The multitude of migrant workers walking to their homes with their children and belongings stacked on their shoulders did not deter the father-daughter duo. "We were very afraid, we didn't know what might happen on the road. But when we started, we saw many people like us, they were also walking on the roads. That gave us hope and we didn't feel alone," Jyoti said.
One night, she said, she got so tired that she stopped at a petrol pump and slept a few hours before restarting the journey. "Every now and then, I felt so tired while cycling that I would feel like I would faint. I would ask my dad to get off the bicycle for a few minutes to rest on the road. He asked me to leave him and cycle home alone. He said he would walk or ask somebody to help. He thought his weight was too much for me to carry. But I couldn’t leave him alone, he had a big wound in his knee that hadn’t healed and had gotten worse in the past few months," Jyoti said.
Jyoti cycled for around 150 kilometres every day. Whenever she was exhausted, she would stop and wash her face with water and start cycling again. “For days, my only goal was to get my injured father home to my family. I didn’t think about anything else, and that kept me going.”
Jyoti soon shot to fame and people all across India and abroad lauded her courage.
Donald Trump’s daughter and advisor Ivanka Trump on Friday tweeted:
15 yr old Jyoti Kumari, carried her wounded father to their home village on the back of her bicycle covering +1,200 km over 7 days.
This beautiful feat of endurance & love has captured the imagination of the Indian people and the cycling federation!🇮🇳 https://t.co/uOgXkHzBPz
— Ivanka Trump (@IvankaTrump) May 22, 2020
Impressed with her, the Cycling Federation of India has invited Jyoti to appear for a trial next month. "If I pass the test, I will invest fully in it and make sure to not just make my state, but also my country proud," Jyoti said.
On Ivanka's tweet, the 15-year-old said, "If I become a cycling champion someday, I would love to meet her.”
Meanwhile, Jyoti's mother wishes that Jyoti’s aspiration of studying further gets fulfilled someday. “We have received a lot of appreciation in the past few days. Now, I just wish that my daughter’s desire to study further is also fulfilled," she said.
Left without money or a job during the lockdown, the father and daughter somehow managed to escape dire circumstances away from home. They feel like they are taken care of, for now.
With appreciation, also came some monetary support. According to the family, Akhilesh Yadav, former Uttar Pradesh chief minister has promised financial assistance of Rs 1 lakh and Pappu Yadav of Bihar’s Jan Adhikar Party has also announced a cash assistance of Rs 20,000 for the family.
Darbhanga DM Tyagarajan SM sent an official to Jyoti’s house, assuring them of whatever help they required, including with Jyoti pursuing further education. "But I don’t want to be in this situation ever again. I want my daughter to get educated and ensure that she never feels as helpless as I did before leaving for home without money or work," Paswan said.
Jyoti has also found her goal: "Now I want to study and make a name for myself in sports, I have decided."
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