Tulu Basfor, a 31-year-old sanitation worker, had last year got famous on social media after Assam's Goalpara district administration shared the story of his dedication towards his duty. After the entire janitorial staff of a local civic hospital refused to clean the coronavirus ward out of fear of getting the infection, he had stepped up and without caring for his personal safety, performed his duty for several months. However, despite his heroic efforts, he is still a temporary worker, struggling with poverty.
Mr Basfor, who has studied till Class 10, has been working at the hospital in Assam's Golpara, about 150 kilometers from Guwahati, for the last 14 years. He gets just Rs 3,000 per month as salary, which is not enough to make ends meet.
"Goalpara had got one of the first cases of COVID-19 in the state...At that time, there were a lot of rumours and myths about the virus. Our janitor staff and even a few medical staff were reluctant to attend to the COVID-19 wards. There was no regular cleaner available. That's when the turning point came in the shape of Tulu Basfor. He showed the true spirit of the human mind and heart. He donned the PPE kit and cleaned the COVID-19 ward and continued with this duty, leaving behind a young wife and a small child," Deputy Commissioner of Goalpara, Varnali Deka, told NDTV.
Mr Basfor was 17 when his father died in 2006. He managed to get a job as a casual worker at the hospital. Since then, he has been hoping that he will be appointed as a permanent worker.
Mr Basfor, who is now back to his normal duty as the number of Covid cases has dropped sharply in the district, recalls how difficult it had been to keep his morale up amid the pandemic.
"I have an old mother and a child, so I never went back home...As patients used to panic, I always tried to keep them happy. I used to speak to them from a distance and always told them that I would be there if they needed anything," he said.
While he was away, his family had to endure the stigma attached to the pandemic and financial crisis.
"I kept weeping for days, worried about him...we didn't sleep for days, hardly had food. Many people had also been taunting us. Because we are poor, people spread rumours about us," his mother, Geeta Basfor, said.
Apart from Tulu's salary, she gets Rs 1500 as monthly pension.
Tulu's wife, Dimple Kalita, wants him to be made a permanent worker.
"We wish that my husband gets some reward for his temporary yet important service for many years...sometimes, I tell him to leave this job, but he does not want to...he feels a sense of belonging to the job," she said.