ByÂ P. Alli:
Rising republic India at 61! — amidst this unsinkable jubiliation, the thought of Mahatma Gandhi and other national leaders would just flit across the minds of my fellow citizens and obviously, not the innumerable foot soldiers. This exuberant occasion could neither pose a proud smile on the patched lips ofÂ Laxmi ‘Indira’ Panda nor to her departed soul (P.Sainath’s article on “The last battle of Laxmi Panda”, The Hindu, August 15, 2007, p.13). And many of her compatriots are still languishing to eke out a decent living inÂ chawls — lonely, ailing, distressed and disillusioned. I am trying to refer to the countless foot-soldiers (‘silent army’) whose priceless sacrifices although could not be penned down in history textbooks nor could be inscribed on theÂ ‘Amar Jawan Jyothi’; but of course the proud Indian flag that stands high at the Red Fort literally speaksÂ ‘for your tomorrow, we gave our today’.
One of my paternal grandfathers, who gave up his lucrative job in Singapore to join the INA, was a proud INA pensioner (he passed away three years back). He used to hail the Indian government for the due salute (the Indian government sees to it that the pension is revised for the veterans) that the INA veterans and the other freedom fighters are given in our country.
But, the story ofÂ Laxmi ‘Indira’ Panda — said to be one of the youngest members and the onlyÂ Oriya lady of the INA (who unfortunately passed away in 2008), raised my eyebrows and I was taken aback on learning that the Central Government’s pension has been denied to her on the ground that she wasn’t jailed! Does it eventually mean that ‘to have been jailed’ during the freedom struggle forms the basic criteria to avail the Central Government pension? It is really disgusting to know that even at the age of 80, carrying the scars of shrapnel, living in a shanty along with her alcoholic son, this proud icon had to keep on battling and had to run from pole to post, in assuring the Central government that all her papers, medals and her INA uniform were thrown overboard when the British secret police arrested them.
At her old age of 70, she was earning a life by washing utensils in various houses.
However, it was only the Orissa government that accorded the freedom fighter status to theÂ ‘daughter of the soil’ by providing her a meager Rs. 1,000 per month, and also offering a small piece of land, despite the lacunae thatÂ ‘she was not jailed’. Had she been arrested, she would have been getting a pension of at least Rs 15000/- per month, enough to meet her medical needs.
These unsung heroes who trudged difficult paths and endured hardships without a thought for praise or rewards, need no sympathy but simplyÂ Roti, Kapada and Makan. I personally feel now, that all the foot soldiers — those who are no more as well as the few who are left now, are not fortunate enough like my grandfather! I wonder how many more unsung heroes are struggling to make ends meet.
Such a shameful act of the Central government makes tears roll down my cheeks, as I wait anxiously for the D- day — 26th January.