Since the onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic, Sonu Sood, the Bollywood actor has been organising buses to assist migrant workers to return home.
As part of his 'Ghar Bhejo' campaign, he has helped approximately 12,000 migrants reach home, and arrangements have been made for another 45,000, reported The Hindu.
He has been responding to questions over a voice note, amid what he called a 'crazily busy schedule' that has been keeping him awake nearly 22 hours a day. Each day, at least around 45,000 people are provided with food and water as well.
Popular for his antagonist roles in blockbusters such as Dabangg (Hindi), Arundhati and Dookudu (Telugu), and Chandramukhi (Tamil), among other films, off-screen, Sonu has the reputation of being amiable.
Now, he is being hailed as a hero for all the relief work he has taken up voluntarily. His team has set up a toll-free number (18001213711), and he also looks into requests that pour in through social media.
"Initially, I spoke to some of the migrants here. They were in tears, and their kids were in bad shape. I requested some of them to wait for a day or two, stating that I will try to help," he recalled.
He contacted friends who could help him reach out to the transport authorities, police officials and State Governments of Maharashtra and Karnataka to get the required permissions.
"The logistics and paperwork took effort; we obtained clearances and with all medical safety precautions in place, we managed to send 350 migrants to Karnataka. That was the first step," he elaborated.
Since then, buses from Mumbai have plied to Karnataka, and permissions were also obtained for migrants to travel to Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Odisha, and Rajasthan. Requests to travel to other states are also coming in.
Sonu has been eager to help those who want to travel to Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, but complied with the rules of the respective State Governments.
Given the high number of cases in Maharashtra, permissions have been tough to obtain from some States like Telangana. "We have been plying buses only to those States that have given us permissions," he said.
Millions need help
The Shramik trains that ply migrant workers across the country have helped address the crisis to an extent. But there is still demand for buses, said Sonu.
"There are millions of people who need help and we are trying the best we can. I don't think we will stop till we help the last person who wants to go home. It's hugely satisfying to reunite them with their families," he added.
His family members, his chartered accountant and friends have been looking into different aspects of the work: "A lot of small things require coordination, like deciding who travels on which bus at what time. Some of my friends also pick up migrants stranded in different areas of Mumbai and drop them off at the buses," he added.
The actor called it a team effort and said the film fraternity has also pitched in to help. He mentioned how director Farah Khan called on a daily basis to know the requirements and helped with organising water for everyone involved.
Though Sonu did not disclose how much he has spent over the last few weeks, reports indicated that buses cost anywhere from INR 65,000 to INR 2 lakh for hire. Sonu began hiring them at his own expense, and as the word spread, people have come forward to do their bit for the food, water and other requirements.
For health workers
In the meantime, Sonu also opened the doors of his family-owned Shakti Sagar Hotel in Juhu, Mumbai, named after his father, to shelter paramedical staff and doctors:
"Health workers are the wall between us and the virus. We are happy to provide them with food and a place to rest before they resume their work the following day," said Sonu Sood.
Admitting that It has been a huge challenge and responsibility Sonu Sood said that God has been making it happen and they have been chosen as tools. There are miles to go and the journey will continue."
From celebrities to fans, many have praised the big-hearted star for his selfless initiative to help the stranded migrant workers.