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India policeman's TikTok video helps family find missing father


May. 28, 2020

A TikTok video intended to encourage people to help the poor had an unintended result when it succeeded in reuniting a man with his family.
R Venkateshwarlu, who had been missing for two years, was seen in the video filmed under a flyover 2,000km (1,242 miles) away from his home in Telangana.
A friend alerted the family who then reached out to police in the northern state of Punjab to help reunite them.
"I burst into tears when I first saw him," his son told BBC Telugu.
How did he go missing?
R Venkateshwarlu, who has hearing and speech difficulties, had lived all his life in a village in the southern state of Telangana. He has a wife and five children and was employed as a labourer.
In April 2018, he boarded a truck to go to another village for work.
"My father fell asleep and the truck driver didn't know he was there. Several kilometres later, the driver realised my father was in the truck and so he dropped him off on the middle of the road and left him there," his son, R Peddiraju, told the BBC.
Image caption The family were reunited after two years
Alone on an unfamiliar road, Mr Venkateshwarlu hoped to hitchhike a ride home, and eventually found another truck willing to give him a ride. But hours later, he realised the vehicle was travelling in the opposite direction.
That driver dropped him off in Ludhiana, a large industrial city in the northern state of Punjab.
Mr Peddiraju said that they had tried to find him with the help of local police but had been unable to do so.
How was he found?
It was a lucky twist of fate.
Ever since India went into lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19, Punjab police constable Ajaib Singh had been going around Ludhiana to donate food and essential items to migrant workers and the poor.
His TikTok channel, which has more than 800,000 followers, features videos of charitable acts during the lockdown.
In one of his videos uploaded in March, Mr Singh is seen distributing food to people living under a flyover in Ludhiana.
Thousands of kilometres away in Telangana, a friend of Mr Peddiraju watching the video thought he recognised Mr Venkateshwarlu in it and alerted his family.
They got in touch with the Ludhiana police who then tracked down Mr Venkateshwarlu and facilitated a video call between him and his son.
Image caption The Punjab police facilitated a video call between R Venkateshwarlu and his son
"We both burst into tears when we first saw each other. He asked me to come and take him home," his son said.
Police suggested he go and see his father once the lockdown was over.
"But we couldn't wait that long to see him so we managed to get a permit that would allow me to travel across states," Mr Peddiraju said.
Within a week, he was in Ludhiana with his father, who had been in police care.
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