How Bhaichung Bhutia offered a helping hand to stranded migrants in Sikkim

Written by Debkalpa Banerjee

Published: March 31, 2020 5:48:23 pm

Bhaichung Bhutia won 107 caps for India, scoring 42 goals. (Source: File Photo)

India’s former captain Bhaichung Bhutia on Monday threw open the doors of a building he owned near the Sikkim border to help migrant workers who are unable to get home due to the ongoing 21-day lockdown. In addition, the former Indian footballer-turned-politician also promised to ensure all those who stayed there would receive the basics they needed with the help of his team United Sikkim Football Club (USFC).

“With the lockdown, the most affected people are the migrant workers all across India. In Sikkim as well, there are thousands of people from the neighbouring states of West Bengal and Bihar who can’t cross the [state] border because they are sealed off. People have been sleeping on the roads without a roof over their heads for the past three/four days,” Bhutia told over the phone.

“The migrants who were working on my building too had started leaving. To help them, I spoke to local authorities a few days back to get permission to let them stay at my place near Gangtok. Although the four-storeyed should accommodate around a hundred people, there are still structural challenges,” he said.

India has reported 1,252 confirmed cases of the coronavirus infections, and 32 deaths.

Although Sikkim has reported no positive cases of the coronavirus, the state has seen workers in the unorganised sector clamour to return to their home states.

“I have asked the government for supplies and ration for the workers, and hopefully, with my club [United Sikkim], we can provide the essential services for more people. Till now, it’s around 15 people, so it’s manageable,” Bhutia said.

United Sikkim was shut down last September to “focus on grassroot football”, but Bhutia said he has ensured the club’s senior manager can be of assistance to people.

Apart from offering shelter to the stranded, Bhutia took part in the Asian Football Confederation’s (AFC) awareness programme #BreakTheChain along with the current India captain Sunil Chhetri. The AFC has promoted the message of respecting lockdowns rules, following WHO guidelines and observing personal hygiene.

Bhutia also heads the Hamro Sikkim Party (HSP), a political outfit, but said the current situation demands going beyond politics. 

“I have asked people to pitch in individually, and if other individuals can provide to the people personally, then even better,” he said.

Bhutia’s former clubs Mohun Bagan and East Bengal have also stepped up to support the fight against the pandemic. Former teammates like Mehtab Hossain and Syed Rahim Nabi have banded together to form ‘Players for Humanity’, along with current internationals like Pritam Kotal and Pronay Halder, to help the poor.

“It depends on people to come forward to help, and it doesn’t always have to be monetary. Like the Prime Minister said, if every person can feed at least six people, then it would go a long way. On the other hand, I am sure organisations like AIFF and ISL can help in whatever capacity they can, even if it is offering stadiums as isolation centres,” he said.

On March 27, Sikkim Chief Minister Prem Singh Tamang announced immediate measures to provide relief to the economically weaker sections. The state said families will get their share of ration and labourers will be paid a daily wage of Rs 30 for the duration of the lockdown.

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