Villagers here are running search engines on the internet to do in weeks what the govt could not in years
Ordinary folks in a Punjab village, awash in the spirit of humanity and endowed with remarkable common sense and some skill with the internet, have achieved a feat that police forces and babudom of several states, including Punjab, failed to accomplish even though they were duty bound to do so.
Villagers near Kurali in Punjab, who had found a mentally retarded man foraging for food in a pile of garbage, were able to win his confidence, coax out of him after many weeks a word, googled it to find that it was the name of a village in Madhya Pradesh's Bhind district, called up the administration there only to be told that the village fell under a different thana. Once again, they were searching websites of police of various districts till they found the relevant thana, spoke to the cops there and convinced them to visit the village of the man they had with them.
What happened next was nothing short of a miracle. Villagers in Pandapur in Madhya Pradesh told the cops from nearby Dehaat thana that one Mukesh of their village has been given up for lost, and there was little hope of finding him since he was mentally retarded and could not tell anyone who he was. The descriptions from Punjab and in Pandapur seemed to match. Soon, it dawned on all concerned that they were witnesses to a miracle.
Activists of the Universal Disabled Care Taker Social Welfare Society were as overjoyed as the relatives of Mukesh, the man whose family travelled from Madhya Pradesh to village Padiala, not very far from Chandigarh, to reunite after 11 long years earlier this summer.
Society president Shamsher Singh, his wife and founder member of the do-gooders' group Rajinder Kaur, and Charanjit Singh, the man with immense skills with using the powers of the search engines to make long lost kin reunite, were hardly satisfied with what they had achieved. For them, this was only one of the long list they were ticking off. And Charanjit was keenly trying to make sure that Mukesh's family members correctly noted down the details of the medicines he was taking. "I am so happy that Mukesh's wife is still living with her in-laws after so many years. May be in some corner of her heart, she had not given up hope. May be, this milaap was bound to happen, and our mission was only to be a vehicle," he said.
Mission Milaap. Charanjit loved the name and the challenge. And no one knows how many times in the course of a day does he beseech God to bless the guys who invented search engines. In the course of one week, he has been able to reunite 12 families. "You cannot believe what happens inside me when I see family members rushing to embrace someone whom they had given up for dead, or lost. I can live a lifetime to watch a moment like this just once more," he said. Charanjit, a chemical engineer by profession, describes himself a "chotta jiha sewadar" of the Society.
Shamsher Singh and his "chotte jihe sewadars" have so far ensured that Meeta, lost for three years, is reunited with her family in Moga, as is Sadhu whose family from Tohana in Haryana found him through Mission Milaap after 5 months. From Udaipur in Rajasthan, Kharar is a long way off, and no one knows how Jamna landed up here, but as to how she reunited with her kin, all credit goes to the Society.
As I ask for more names, these come as a flood: Baani Singh, lost for three years, reunited with family from West Bengal; Saira Khatoon, lost for four years, finding her family from West Bengal so surprised to see her alive; Geeta Devi, lost for two months from Gurdaspur going back with her kin; Shanti, lost for four months, from Bharatpur in Rajasthan now beginning a new life; Dilbara Singh, lost for three years, finding his home again in Jagraon. Urmila of Mandi in Himachal Pradesh, Soma Devi from Amb, also in the hill state, besides Geeta of Bharatpur in Rajasthan. Each one a name for me that I was quickly scribbling down, but for Shamsher Singh and his band of do-gooders, each one was a complete story of what mysteries life can hold, and what miracles can common men and women perform.
"All you need is the determination and God will help you find a way," Shamsher Singh, a chemist by profession, was being philosophical in a chat with Punjab Today. Many years back, he had started on a journey without knowing where it would take him when he found an old destitute man whom he brought home and did not have the heart to ask him to leave after feeding him and taking care of him for a few days. Soon, there was another, and then another. The house was too small, and neighbours, their immense nicety notwithstanding, simply failing to understand how they were expected to help out by sheltering total strangers, and of them too, some seriously diseased.
"And what if someone died in your house? After all, some of them are very old, some very sick, and some both." Shamsher was being warned. "You would even land up in many police jhamelas
"But weren't you afraid of the police angle? After all, someone could die in that position, and there could be serious trouble," I asked him. He was calm. "I do understand that, but please try to understand my problem. If I am really a believer then I do understand that there is one Creator, and there is a certain path which is so clear to me that I must walk. Now, how do I answer my inner voice? By muffling it because of the fear of police, or by fearing that I would not be able to face my conscience if I did not take a sick man or a destitute child in?"
Shamsher tried to solve the problem in his own way. He had a doctor friend at the Post Graduate Institute (PGI) for Medical Education and Research in Chandigarh, and another at the Government Medical College and Hospital, Sector 32, Chandigarh. Off and on, he would take some patients there. He tapped the Shiromani Gurdwara Prabandhak Committee (SGPC) too, thinking the cash rich body will help find some logistical solution.
Things were getting out of hand. Every day, some good Samaritan would bring one or the other fellow. A man in tatters, an old woman, an abandoned young girl found aimlessly roaming the streets, a child whose ribs were sticking out because of starvation. With treatment costs rising, three meals a day becoming quite a burden and an inner voice goading him not to give up, Shamsher refused to believe that there was nothing that he could do. At times, he would request a neighbour, at others he would erect a tent outside his home. In the winter of 2003, he was able to take a house on rent in Sector 37 of Chandigarh, but soon had to shift to Kharar. Then he took up a house in village Khanpur.
As numbers swelled, he and his fellow activists who had formed the Universal Disabled Care Taker Social Welfare Society by now, rented an accommodation for Rs 4,500 per month on Jhungian Road opposite the Kila Complex in Kharar. Disabled persons' care has its own set of problems. Once in a while, a psychiatric patient would jump over the boundary wall and all hell would break lose. Individual patients demanded special care.
But the good work was not going unnoticed. One Kuldip Singh of Kharar gave them a one kanal plot. More philanthropists followed. Now, construction is in full swing on a 2-kanal plot, and some 175 people partake of the daily langar three times a day. The "home" has 150 residents.
"Can you give me the names of your activist friends who help you out?" I asked Charanjit Singh. He was, however, more worried about the fact that I was not noting down carefully the names of the police people in various chowkis, thanas of different states who had responded very sympathetically to the Society's SOS calls regarding finding the families of various inmates.
"Please you must mention that Upadhyaye ji and head constable Prem Kumar Yadav were very quick to help in case of Mukesh. They had gone to his village the same day and by evening we knew we have succeeded."
I assured him I will definitely mention these good cops. "And please also mention Pawan Kumar at Amb, Ranjeet at Abhayapur in Himachal Pradesh, ASI Padam Singh at Kaman in Rajasthan, Tarsem at Bamial Chowki in Gurdaspur, Inspector Manik Kumar Kulia at Datun in West Bengal…"
Charanjit was not letting me ask the one question that I had been trying to get him to consider. "ASI O.P. Singh at Surajpol in Rajasthan, sub inspector Swarup at Suti in West Bengal, Tarsem at Jagraon in Punjab…."
"But tell me, was it not the job of all these cops, all of our administrators to do all of this that you have been doing? I mean why were the police officers not getting all the details and running searches on the internet, why was the administration not taking care of the destitute? How the hell can Mukesh remain a lost man for 11 years? What the hell was the police from Madhya Pradesh to Punjab doing for eleven years?" I was getting furious.
The problem was that everyone knew, and I knew, that we all knew the answers. The difference was that Shamsher and his ilk knew what was to be done and they were doing it. And they were advising me to about what must to write in my report. "Forget the cops. Please help us. Here is what you can do. Please write that now police in most states have their own websites, and it is possible to often find phone numbers of thanas, chowkis etc and make inquiries. What we are doing under Mission Milaap is so easily replicable. We must harness the power of technology. May be someone somewhere will read this and try to do it in his village or town. That will be a real service."
Oh Shamsher, how easy do you make it seem! What makes me wonder is how you found it easy to keep that first old destitute man in your house? Most of us do not take that first step. May be the rest start coming easy. But you can only find out after the first step. There still are things you can't google about.