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Situated 1,200 kilometers (745 mi) from Jyoti Kumari’s outskirts of New Delhi, her unemployed father made headlines around the world and the plight of India’s unemployed migrant workers.
The teenager said that she promised her mother that they would deliver her home when she stopped India to stop the spread of coronovirus, when they would run away for food and money.
“I was determined to reach a safe home with my father. My mother gave me this responsibility,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by calling from Sirhulli village in the poor eastern state of Bihar.
After cycling for more than a week, he said, “We boarded a ride for about 50 kilometers, but I had nowhere on my mind.”
Thousands of migrant workers were forced to make their home and their work was over overnight when India was declared one of the world’s harshest lockouts.
Scores fell ill or died while walking hundreds of miles in intense heat after most public transport had stopped.
Kumari traveled from Bihar to meet her father, a rickshaw driver, in March after an accident left him unable to ride a bicycle, and stayed to cook and clean for him.
The story of his patience and determination captured the imagination of people across the country, with pictures of him on a pink bicycle with his father going viral on social media.
The Cycling Federation of India invited him for the trials and was criticized for praising him by Ivanka Trump, an advisor to the US president, with opposition figures saying there was nothing to celebrate the pair’s desperate journey.
Health experts say India’s huge lockdown has helped limit the spread of COVID-19, but has pushed millions of people who live on the brink of poverty on daily wages.
After growing criticism and stories of hard work, the government is now running trains and buses to help migrants get homes.
Carrying just a small bag of flattened rice and a little cloth, the two survived mainly on biscuits and food served by people as they rested on the roadside and at fuel stations.
When they arrived, she said, all she wanted to do was “go to sleep and eat dal-bhat (rice and lentils)”.
Since then, local politicians and journalists have created a spectacle to meet Kumari – to entertain her.
She has said that she did not attend school regularly in the past because the family was poor and had work at home, but now she intended to resume her studies.
Bihar is one of the least developed and conservative states in India, where child marriage prevails and girls are regularly denied education.
“I never thought I’d be famous,” said the shy teenager, who often asked her father to speak for her during interviews. “I think people are fascinated because I’m a girl.”
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