169 girls of Odisha's Kendrapara district working in a garments manufacturing factory of Kerala returned to their home state on Friday by a special flight arranged by actor Sonu Sood.
The girls from Rajnagar block of Kendrapara district and working in Ernakulam, arrived at Biju Patnaik International Airport in Bhubaneswar by an Air Asia flight from Cochin International Airport. Along with them, 9 other migrant workers from Odisha who worked in another company were also on the same flight.
The girls had earlier posted a photo on social media urging Odisha authorities to evacuate them from Kerala as their factory had been closed due to lockdown. "Our owner had stopped paying us salaries and we want to go home at any cost. We have been stuck in our rooms since the factory shut down," the girls in the video said with folded hands. The girls said they had resigned from the factory over fears of being infected by Covid-19 and wanted to go back.
After the plight of the girls became public on social media, actor Sonu Sood came forward to help them. He was reportedly informed about the girls by one of his friends from Bhubaneswar. He took permission from the Odisha government and got an aircraft from Bangalore to airlift the girls from Ernakulam. The actor bore the entire cost of the flight.
One of the girls who flew back in the Air Asia flight said that she did not expect to be flown back to Odisha. "We had lost all hopes of going back. We thought we may travel back by bus or the Shramik Special trains. Officials from the Kerala labour department said they'll put us on a train to Odisha. But all thanks to Sonu Sood, we managed to fly back to Odisha," she said.
The local administration initially told the girls that they may be sent in batches, but they insisted to be sent home in one go.
After reaching Bhubaneswar airport, the girls were taken in special buses to Marshaghai block where they have been put up quarantine centres.
Anshuman Mohanty, a former Congress MLA of Rajnagar, said Sonu had assured him that he can get more such stranded workers of Odisha in Kerala. "He has shown a big heart. Incredible act," said Mohanty.
Over the last month, Sonu has been sending thousands of stranded migrants in Maharashtra home. He has sent some 12,000 migrant workers back to their homes in Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka and Bihar by buses, spending his own money for the travel. Due to his exemplary work, many have started calling him as a saviour of migrant workers.