At this moment of national distress due to the current COVID pandemic, where the plight of the migrant labors and those economically affected has been making everyone sad and tearful – the Assamese diaspora in Pune, under the organizational banner of Asomi, sprang into action as soon as the lockdown was announced by the Government. Fearing that many of the Assamese diasporas may face hardships in the lockdown due to the absence of a job or food, Asomi immediately published a list of volunteers with their contact details via social media. Every area of the city, including both municipal corporations and rural areas, were covered. But the SOS calls were in many – starting with just a few calls on Day 1, it became Thousands of people who reached out to the organization for support and relief during this pandemic. Though a voluntary organization with limited funds, the Asomi team did not hesitate and provided relief and materials in all parts of the city and beyond.
The testing times like this bring out the true noble souls amongst us, who despite having families and with no obligation, without any monetary or selfish gains, ventures to serve humanity. Mr. Rajumoni Borah, who despite having family and two kids, took the noble mission of serving ration to over 1200 needy migrant laborers or those in needy in Pune. While Rajumoni, who runs an Assamese restaurant Pakghor took the lead in the distribution of relief materials, other Executive members such as Dr. Samiron Phukan, Rajib Borkataki, Col(Retd) Tarun Borah and many others co-ordinated with the authorities such as Assam Government, Assam Bhavan Mumbai and the Pune Police for permissions, arranging of materials, etc which was very tough in the initial days of the lockdown. In addition to helping the Assamese community the organization also distributed around 250 packets to the local and other needy personals from the North-Eastern states.
However, as the lockdown period kept increasing, those stranded in Pune – Students, Patients, those came for official or business trips, short visitors, and most importantly those now rendered jobless or homeless was stuck and had nowhere to go. The relief material provided to many was a short-term solution and there was a desperate need for them to be sent back home, – Assam. But even otherwise, without the lockdown – Pune never had a direct train or a direct flight connection to Assam and the only way was to take a connecting train or flight from another city midway. As such arranging for thousands of people to get back home which was 3-4 days of road travel away only looked like a dream, -something impossible. But team Asomi decided to pursue what was deemed impossible – arranging a direct train from Pune to Assam!
Dr. Samiron Phukan, Rajib Borkataki, Tarun Borah, and other able volunteers and members started collecting information of those stranded or those who needed to get back to Assam using social media, WhatsApp, and direct calls. The first list of 367 people (patients, elderly, migrant workers, students, and working professionals stranded in Pune) was sent out on the 1st of May. The list was prepared in record time despite difficulties incoordination due to the lockdown period and was duly submitted to the Government Authorities of Assam.
Asomi team did not just end the task by submitting the list and necessary details, but continued to follow up vigorously, and finally on the 10th of May, Government officials from Assam called back and confirmed that they would start the process to raise a requisition for a train. However, the Government needed more details and also wanted Asomi to consolidate the list for Pune and Mumbai. As such they also reached out to Assam Bhavan and others who were creating such lists of people to share their lists so that there is one consolidated list of the potential passengers, – which meant going back to thousands of people for collecting additional information. In spite of having a regular day job, Dr. Samiron Phukan and Rajib Borkataki rendered sleepless nights and worked tirelessly for several days without any break. In fact, Rajib Borkataki’s personal number went on to become Assam Government’s helpline number for those stranded in Pune and he took 1000s of calls from different people who had started to follow up! Since the response from Assam Government was initially slow, Team Asomi reached out to the Government of Maharashtra too, on 14th May, to initiate a discussion with the Government of Assam for expediting the process for arranging for a train. The Maharashtra Government duly supported and sent an email to the Government of Assam to send them the list of people. That same evening, Assam Government called back and asked for a revised list after adding the details of Destination District and Police Station for each person on the list! They also wanted that without complete data, the names will be dropped from the final list and the deadline was given was midnight, which was 5 hours away and more than 1500 people were to be contacted!! The team worked overnight, got the revised later together, and made the submissions once again. This process saw a lot of effort from one volunteer Mriganka Das, who called up several hundred people through the night to get the data in record time. In the process, another 320 people’s data also got added!
Finally, on 21st May – Assam Government called up and confirmed that the train would be arranged to depart from Pune at 4 pm on 22nd May. Asomi teamed up with local Authorities and Pune Police. Thousands of people were called up and informed. Tarun Borah, Mr. Chiranjib Sarma, and Rajumoni Borah volunteered to be at the station to ensure that everything is properly arranged for all travelers people. Even on the last day, some urgent requested had to be arranged – including two girls who had been thrown out by their landlords in Pune; and few people from Meghalaya who had to reach home urgently. The list also included 25 children from Assam who had come for a sponsored program at the NGO – Darshana.
Finally, with coordination with the Pune police, Railway department, and Govt of Assam, Asomi was able to send 1416 stranded people from Pune to Assam. During the entire process, great help was extended by Shri Vishal Solanki, IAS, Commissioner Higher Education, Govt of Maharashtra, who even coordinated with the Railways to add more bogies to accommodate additional people. Also support from Pune Collectorate and Pune Police ensured that the Asomi team was updated with the developments! There was also support and cooperation from the Nodal Office, Assam in this whole matter.
The arrangement for the train had been in addition to another arrangement for 100 students and youths to travel to Assam via Bus travel. Before the current train would reach Assam, the team had actually started working on arranging for the second train already as there are more people stranded.
Asomi appeals to all stranded people staying in Pune to reach out to them (WhatsApp 8850415190). This was stated by Dr. Samiron Phukan, President and Mr. Rajib Borkataki, Secretary of the organization. Meanwhile hundreds of people have taken to Social Media, appreciating the efforts of Asomi.
It is to be noted that Asomi had always been extremely active in different events and occasions. Even in Assam and Maharashtra floods in monsoons 2019, Asomi had offered a helping hand teamed up with Sakal times for Maharashtra flood relief, in addition to arranging relief fund for Assam. Asomi has been long working towards bridging the gap between the North East and Maharashtra by undertaking many socio-cultural activities. The activities are organized by the members of the Assamese community residing in Pune and also by inviting artists and prominent personalities from Assam and other states of the North East to showcase the rich cultural heritage and spread awareness about Assam and North East in the region.