New Delhi — An Indian man from the southern state of Telangana has been reunited with his family after more than two years thanks to a TikTok video posted by a police officer. Roddam Venkateshwarlu, who has speech and hearing difficulties, was working as a day laborer when he went missing in April 2018, leaving his wife and five children completely at a loss.
They filed a missing persons report with police, but there was never any lead — until a few weeks ago. A family friend recognized Venkateshwarlu in a TikTok video posted online by a police officer in Ludhiana, 1,240 miles away from the family's home in Punjab state.
"I burst into tears when I first saw him," the man's son R Peddiraju told BBC News' regional BBC Telugu service.
The video was posted by police constable Ajaib Singh. He has more than 800,000 followers on his TikTok channel and has made several videos urging compassion for India's poor. He's delivered his message with videos of himself donating food and other necessities to vulnerable people in his community, who have been hit hard by India's coronavirus lockdown.
In one recent video, Venkateshwarlu could be seen in a highway underpass. Once he was made aware of the clip, his son immediately reached out to the Ludhiana Police, who managed to track down his father and let them see and talk to each other over video chat.
"We both burst into tears when we first saw each other. He asked me to come and take him home, signalling in his own way," his son told the BBC.
The pandemic lockdown in India has seen flights, trains and most other means of transport suspended across the country. That meant the family had to wait a little while for their reunion, but Venkateshwarlu's son managed to get special permission from the authorities to travel to Ludhiana.
He went last week and finally got to embrace his father. Both of them were reunited with the rest of the family on Tuesday, when they got back to their village in Punjab.
"This is the first time that our father stayed away from us for this long. He lived only on rotis (flat breads) for the last two years, which he was not used to," his son told the BBC.