Lionhearted

An injury, a journey, a recruitment. But then, a question. Also, 7 other things worth your time.

Here’s an inspiring story. And there’s an even more inspiring twist toward the end.

But then, we’ll explore whether it was all necessary.

OK. It’s from India. In January, a man named Mohan Paswan got injured. He drives a tuk-tuk (I had to look it up, it’s one of those three-wheeled, scooter-based taxis) in a city of about 876,000 people called Gurugram, which is near New Delhi.

Paswan has been a driver for about 20 years, but he’s actually a migrant worker from Bihar, which is about 700 miles to the east of Gurugram. After he was injured, he couldn’t work, and so his 15-year-old daughter, Jyoti Kumari, took a train to meet him and take care of him.

Her family is poor. Jyoti was only free to make the journey because she’d dropped out of school last year after running out of money. Then, not long after she arrived, the coronavirus pandemic took siege.

India was under a nationwide lockdown. Thousands of migrant workers like Paswan had no work, and started trying to find ways home before they completely ran out of money and food—many of them walking hundreds of miles.

But Paswan was unable to travel on his own, and so his daughter came up with a solution. He couldn’t believe it at first, but he eventually acquiesced.

Jyoti took her last $20 and bought a rickety, used bicycle, planning to put her dad on the back and ride the entire way home.

Here’s what it looked like. This is the BBC’s Hindi News service, so unless you’re more of a polyglot than I am, you might not understand the language. But, the video will be pretty clear.

Maybe you’ve been on a long bike ride before, but let’s point out that this is an old, beat-up bike, with only one gear, and Jyoti Kumari, who looks like she weighs maybe 100 pounds soaking wet, was carrying her roughly 150-pound father and his luggage.

They had no other option, so she made it happen. She rode almost the entire way. They slept mostly by the side of the road, and relied on the kindness of strangers for food. People sometimes mocked them, not knowing the story—the small girl riding a bike with a full-grown man on the back.

Then, Indian media learned about the trek, and spread the story.

"It was unbearably tiring. We would stop by for a quick bite at places where we could spot, unlucky ones like us being fed by local Samaritans. At a few spots, we hitched rides on trucks. Drivers, taking pity on us, would help by dropping us to a point from where our paths diverged," recalled the girl.

"It must have taken eight days... and then, here we were! Back home!" said an elated Jyoti, her fatigue making it difficult to remember the date on which they had started.

Eventually, they made it to Bihar. By then, Jyoti Kumari was a national hero: described as “the lionhearted” throughout the press.

And then, the incredible twist. Impressed by her feat, the Cycling Federation of India reached out to her in mid-May, and asked her to try out for the national team.

“I called her up,”Onkar Singh, the federation's chairman, told NPR. “She was quite confused. I told her that our aim is to make her a world champion. "We are looking at the Olympics 2024 and 2028.”

From there, her story went global. But then…

I don’t even want to call this a backlash. It’s more like context. I haven’t seen anyone denigrate Jyoti Kumari or her father. But there’s a groundswell of people saying her heroic feat shouldn’t have been necessary.

Some people asked: What kind of a country puts people in this kind of situation?

"She did something brave. But it's something nobody should ever have to do,” Kirthi Jayakumar, told NPR. “Who wouldn't want to save their father? But circumstances made it so difficult, because of the lack of empathy in policymaking — the sheer absence of compassion and understanding of how a policy can impact different communities differently."

Relevant fact: I’ve never even been to India, and I’m certainly not criticizing the Indian people.

But I am reminded of the kind of story where a hero runs into a burning building and rescues stranded kids—only to have people smartly ask later: well, why was the building on fire to begin with?

Sometimes, I write these essays, and there’s a temptation to tie a nice little bow and connect it back to what’s going on in the United States. I’m not sure I can do that here.

All I can do is try to apply that thought process to everything going on around us.

Who are the heroes?

And why are the buildings on fire?

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7 other things worth your time

  • This seems like a pretty big deal. James Mattis, who was President Trump’s defense secretary until last year and a four-star general beloved by U.S. Marines before that, denounced the president as someone who “tries to divide us” and represents “the consequences of three years without mature leadership,” after the “abuse of executive authority that we witnessed in Lafayette Square.” (The Atlantic)

  • The current defense secertary, Mark Esper said he doesn’t agree with Trump that the Insurrection Act, authorizing the use of the military inside the United States, is warranted. Afterward, Trump’s press secretary would only say that “as of right now,” Esper remained in his job. (Axios)

  • After Twitter labeled a few of President Trumps tweets misleading, SnapChat will stop promoting his account on its popular social media app, saying it “will not amplify voices who incite racial violence and injustice by giving them free promotion.” (New York Times)

  • All four police officers identified on the video of the death of George Floyd have now been charged with serious felonies. (CNN)

  • More than 11,000 people have now been arrested at U.S. anti-racism protests. The vast majority appear to have been charged with things like violating curfew or “failure to disperse,” as opposed to charges associated with looting, rioting, or other felonies. (Buzzfeed News)

  • Why do white supremacists who hope to start a race war wear Hawaiian shirts? The answer has to do with a joke about a 1984 movie, and social media platforms that flagged their language. (The Washington Post, via Greenwich Time)

  • The last person still receiving a pension due to the Civil War — a 90-year-old woman in North Carolina who received $73.13 per month as a result of her father’s service 155 years ago, has herself died. (CNBC)

Bonus: Yesterday I wrote about Officer Skinner. Now he has this op-ed in The Washington Post.

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