He spent three decades of his life living like a destitute — wearing torn clothes, spending days working at an eatery in Uttarakhand just for food enough to survive, nights at a nearby bus stop even in bone-chilling winters, and his plight kept only to himself as he spoke and understood nothing except Kannada.
But, the 70-year-old Kenchappa Govindappa’s wait to unite with his family finally ended earlier this year when he was spotted by Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) Jawan Constable Riyaz Sunkad. Mr Sunkad was going on leave when he spotted Mr Govidappa at a roadside eatery in Uttarakhand’s Chalthi village, 64 kms from Pithoragarh.
Mr Sunkad went home, but Mr Govindappa’s story kept troubling him. He called his two seniors who are natives of Karnataka — Head Constables Premananda Pai and Sharana Basava Ragapur — and told them about the man.
The two Head Constables went to the eatery and found Mr Govidappa in a “real bad shape”. “He was in emotional shock. He was lost for years and could not get in touch with his family or relatives,” Mr Pai told news agency PTI over the phone.
“The man knew only Kannada (a language alien to the sparsely-populated Uttarakhand village). He used to sleep at a bus stop behind the eatery even in bone-chilling winters,” he said.
The ITBP jawans sought more information from the eatery-owner who said that Mr Govidappa had come to this location on a truck many years ago. The eatery owner said he did not pay the man any money for his work at the shop.
“The eatery owner only gave him food for helping him with the daily chores,” Mr Pai said.
He was living like a destitute since no one understood his language and the plight he was enduring, he said.
The ITBP jawans provided him with adequate medical care and gave him new clothes.
The troopers later made a video with the man at the eatery and uploaded it on social media. The video did not reach his family, but, fortunately, reached someone who knew them.
After a few days, a call came from an advocate who knew Mr Govindappa’s family in Karnataka’s Dharwad district.
The ITBP personnel then embarked on an over 2,000-km journey to take the 70-year-old to his home he missed so dearly for 30 years.
“We handed him over to his family who were elated to see him. We were informed that Kenchappa Govindappa had six children — four sons and two daughters. He had left home sometime in 1991 in search of a job. From Karnataka, he probably reached Maharashtra and later Chalthi in Uttarakhand where we found him,” Mr Pai said.
When asked what made them undertake this mission, Mr Pai said in an unflattering tone: “How could we turn our back on someone who had suffered so much in life? It was only humane to do what we did.”
The ITBP personnel, posted with the 36th battalion of the border force, have been awarded the top force commendation in recognition of their humanitarian deed.
They have been given the Director General commendation role and silver disc insignia, meant for rendering exceptional service. The three had joined the paramilitary force around 2002-2003.
Their citation said they are being awarded the top category force honour “for exemplary humane approach and a great sense of responsibility by reuniting an old man with his family by taking him from Chalthi to Dharwad”.
ITBP spokesperson Vivek Kumar Pandey said, “The force is proud of the three men who did a humanitarian task beyond the call of their official duty and reaffirmed the values that the force stood for.”
The about 90,000 personnel strong ITBP is primarily tasked to guard the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with China apart of rendering a variety of internal security duties which includes fighting Naxals in Chhattisgarh and Maharashtra and terrorists in Jammu and Kashmir.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)