Ivanka Trump, daughter and senior adviser to President Donald Trump, recently praised a teenage girl in India after she carried her father on a bicycle for several hundred miles to reach home to face a huge backlash. She was accused of being insensitive to the plight of the poor migrant workers in India who have been left in great pain to reach home because of the nationwide lockdown. India has seen continued phases of lockdown because of the coronavirus outbreak since March-end and the migrant workers have found it extremely difficult to get back to their home states and towns from economic centers because of the unavailability of public transport.
Having lost their jobs and with little money and food, workers and their families including women and children are being forced to walk huge distances. Many, like the teenage girl praised by Ivanka, have cycled back. Many workers have either collapsed due to fatigue or killed in road accidents, causing massive uproar across the country. The girl, Jyoti Kumari, 15, carried her father Mohan Paswan on the back of her cycle for about a week to cover 750 miles from Gurugram near the country's capital city New Delhi to their home in Darbhanga in the state of Bihar in eastern India. Ivanka, 38, tweeted on Friday (May 22) night saying: “15 yr old Jyoti Kumari, carried her wounded father to their home village on the back of her bicycle covering +1,200 km over 7 days. This beautiful feat of endurance & love has captured the imagination of the Indian people and the cycling federation!"
India’s cycling federation invited Jyoti for trials after seeing her endurance and said it could help her become a cyclist, India’s local media said. The youngster, however, decided to focus on her studies first. But Ivanka’s ecstasy did not go down well with India’s opposition leaders who have lambasted the Narendra Modi government over the workers’ plight, accusing it of doing very little for them. The Indian authorities arranged for trains for the struggling workers but yet the arrangements were criticized because they came too late and the traveling workers were reportedly treated miserably during their journey too. It was alleged that the workers had to spend hours in trains without food and water or stale food items. There was also an instance where a train filled with migrant workers ended up in another state, located several miles away from where it was supposed to go, stranding the fatigued passengers for more than two days.
India's opposition leaders hit back at Ivanka
Omar Abdullah, former chief minister of the erstwhile northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, tweeted on Friday in response to Ivanka’s post, saying: “Her poverty & desperation are being glorified as if Jyoti cycled 1,200km for the thrill of it. Government failed her, that's hardly something to trumpet as an achievement.” India’s vast lockdown might have succeeded in delaying the spread of Covid-19 which has of late has affected people at a faster rate but millions of daily-wage laborers have been pushed to an existential crisis because of economic downturn.
Karti Chidambaram, son of former Indian finance minister P Chidambaram and an opposition member of parliament, also slammed Ivanka’s way of looking at Jyoti’s "feat." He said in a tweet that her story is not a feat of excellence but something which is fuelled by desperation caused by the "callous attitude of the government." He tagged the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and Prime Minister Modi in his tweet, mocking the latter as a "friend" and "host" to Ivanka. The US first daughter was hosted by Modi while making a controversial appearance at a global event in Hyderabad in 2017. She also came to India in February along with Trump, First Lady Melania Trump, and her husband Jared Kushner, also a senior presidential adviser. Ivanka was also slammed by several other Indians for her take on Jyoti’s marathon cycling.
Jyoti’s father used to work as an auto-rickshaw driver in North India but suffered an accident months ago and had to return the vehicle to its owner. With the lockdown starting and little cash and food to support them, the father-daughter duo decided to follow other workers returning home. They managed to get a second-hand bicycle and set off for home, located far off. Paswan said he was initially doubtful about his daughter managing to do it since she is just 15. He was proved wrong by his child who, according to him, asked him to sit on the cycle and not listen to what people said. The duo survived on biscuits and food that people gave them during their arduous journey. Finally, Jyoti made it by cycling in the hot Indian summer. She was happy to have brought her father back home safely and said she was happy with the appreciation she received from various quarters, refusing to get into any controversy over Ivanka’s remarks, Daily Mail reported.