Social service requires fortitude and selflessness in equal measure. These attributes Patkuri Basanth Reddy possesses in abundance, for his qualities were forged in the painstaking journey of becoming a ‘saviour’ from being a ‘victim’. Once a migrant cons-truction labourer in the Gulf, today Reddy is often a ray of hope for hundreds of workers in West Asia—in Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Abu Dhabi.
A farmer’s son in Manoharabad village in Telangana, Basanth Reddy was compelled to sign up as a construction worker. “My family was in distress. My debt-ridden parents struggled to sell whatever they could produce on their small holding to feed me and my two brothers. The poverty was unbearable. Those days there were agencies who recruited construction labour for Gulf countries. I borrowed Rs 70,000 and paid an agent, who sent me to Bahrain,” he recalls.
Construction workers in the Gulf face hazardous working conditions, resulting in a high number of casualties. Neither the company nor the country cares. It did not take long for Reddy to witness one death a day on an average. The death of his fellow villager Ranadheer Mera, who succumbed to his injuries due to lack of timely medical help, emotionally stirred him into action. “What if it’s me?” Reddy remembers asking himself repeatedly. Reddy raised money from fellow workers and, with the help of the Indian consulate, airlifted Ranadheer’s body back home.
That was the first step. Not only did he send money back home, he also started helping his fellow labourers whenever they got injured. Soon, Reddy’s charity work attracted attention. Labourers from other parts of the Gulf started approaching him for guidance. Among Telugu-
speaking labourers from Andhra and Telangana, a spirit of helping each other in times of need grew stronger in the presence of Reddy.
Basanth Reddy, who migrated to Bahrain in 1996, returned in 2001-02 after repaying his loans. Back home, agriculture had revived, a real-estate boom helped one brother become a property developer, the younger brother became village sarpanch. But through this turn in his fortunes, Reddy continued his ‘mission’ to serve construction workers in distress, often flying to the Gulf, and being recognised as the go-to man for charity work. “During the last 15- 16 years, I have spent a few lakhs from my own earnings for bringing back the dead,” says Reddy, who recently launched the Telangana Gulf Welfare and Cultural Association.
Take the case of Ch Muthanna, a Gulf migrant who returned recently to his home in Kommanpally village amid scenes of joy. Muthanna had gone to Kuwait eight months ago in search of employment, but was duped by his travel agent. Reduced to penury, he developed a kidney ailment. As a last resort, Muthanna approached Basanth Reddy, who approached the Kuwait embassy and arranged his safe homecoming. Also recently, with the help of the MEA and Telangana Minister K.T. Rama Rao, Reddy had arranged the return of over 30 migrants who were stranded in Iran.
There are many such tales of Reddy’s devotion to his mission, and he was justly rewarded by the state government during the 2017 Independence Day celebrations at the Golconda Fort. He also won the B.R. Ambedkar Visishta Seva Pursakar, conferred on him by Union minister Ram Vilas Paswan. “Believe me”, he recalls, “I was taken aback when Paswanji wondered how such a prestigious award can be given to a non-Dalit.” But soon, organisers told Paswan of Reddy’s exemplary work. “Paswanji expressed his regrets,” says Reddy. There are over six lakh migrant workers from Telangana in the Gulf, he says with concern, and many who go there on fake (or kalivili) visas created by Gulf agents languish in foreign jails. Also, thousands of poor labourers who take loans from moneylenders at high interest lead wretched, homeless lives when they find no work. Cast aside by employers, many contemplate suicide.
Basanth Reddy has a plan for misguided, poverty-hounded youth who dream of the Gulf. “For respectable lives, youth should attend skill development courses and obtain proper qualifications before going to Gulf. I expect the state and Centre to start more skill development institutes to train the poor so that they can hope for better offers.” Till then, for the unfortunate cast adrift in a harsh world, there is a saviour to call their own.
By M.S. Shanker in Hyderabad