Two Indian celebrities send thousands of stranded migrants home


Indian actor Sonu Sood and Michelin certified Chef Vikas Khanna have become real life heroes and life savers for thousands of suddenly jobless migrant workers due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Sood’s project ‘GharBhejo’ (send them home), which he started with restaurateur friend Niti Goel, has helped thousands of India’s stranded migrants reach home by buses, trains and planes.

Millions of migrant workers, stuck without work or money in the cities, have walked hundreds of miles to get to their home villages. Many have died on the way in a string of accidents or from exhaustion.

Following outrage over their plight, authorities laid on hundreds of trains to ferry them home, but migrants have been struggling to get seats on the over-stretched services.

But among countless charitable initiatives to feed the workers and get them home, Sood and well-known Michelin-starred chef Khanna – who is running a massive food aid programme – have become go-to helplines for migrants in need.

“The trigger for me was the images of migrants walking with their children on these endless journeys. I imagined a father telling his child home was not far when they had to walk hundreds of miles,” Sood told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

About 20,000 migrants have already left on buses, but “there are many more on the list,” he said.

Sood, who initially raised funds among family and friends before drawing support from further afield, said it had been “the most important time in my life.”

“I thought I would help a few hundreds, then I thought a few thousands and then I thought I would help everyone… this is my duty now.”

On the other side of the world, holed up under lockdown in his New York home, Indian chef Khanna has turned his talents to helping ensure food supplies reach Indian orphanages, old people’s homes and stranded migrants.

Working in partnership with India’s National Disaster Response Force (NDRF), he has since helped deliver more than 8 million meals in two months.

“The best part of the job is that people in orphanages and old age homes want to see your face on video calls,” Khanna said, who is personally answering thank-you messages on Twitter.

Donations have flooded in, with fuel distributors and grains companies offering money and their infrastructure to help get food to needy people in various parts of the country.

For India’s NDRF, help from famous names such as Sood and Khannais welcome.

“It is a marriage of distress-management brands,” said Satya Narayan Pradhan, NDRF’s director general.

“COVID-19 has taught us that the only approach that works is having all hands on deck.” (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)