They fought for India's freedom, now they battle penury
Saturday, 15 August 2009, 06:10 Hrs
"I actively took part in the Quit India movement in 1942. I was a student in Mysore's Maharaja College at that time. I was part of the non-violent brigade and a part of various protest marches against the British rule. I was also jailed for a few months," a visibly proud 88-year-old freedom fighter, now settled in Bangalore told IANS, on condition of anonymity.
"Today I sell newspapers and tea in a stall. I get only 3,000 as a freedom fighter's pension from the state government. It's difficult for me and my wife to survive with a paltry sum of money. It is a hard life for us," he lamented.
Echoing a similar concern, H.O. Sreenivasaiah, another freedom fighter and president of the Karnataka Freedom Fighters' Action Committee, told IANS that selling tea and newspapers on the roads has become the livelihood for several freedom fighters in the state.
"We request better treatment for freedom fighters. Freedom fighters have given their blood and soul to get India's independence. Now, in their old age, freedom fighters deserve an increase in their pension and medical benefits", said Sreenivasaiah, 85. After meeting Mahatma Gandhi in 1934, as a nine-year-old in Malleswaram in north Bangalore, he had decided to take part in the freedom movement.
"If state MLAs (members of the legislative assembly) can get a hike in their monthly salary from 22,000 to 44,000, why have the freedom fighters been ignored?" asked Sreenivasaiah, who is also president of Gandhi Bhavan in Bangalore and worked as an underground activist here, during the Quit India movement in 1942.
The assembly last month approved doubling of its members' salary and a hike in some allowances.
Currently, the state government is giving a pension of 3,000 per month to Karnataka freedom fighters.
Freedom fighter and veteran journalist K.S.Subramanya, 87, who is currently general secretary of the committee, said the state should immediately increase the pension of the freedom fighters and take care of their medical needs.
"All the freedom fighters are above eighty years old. It's the responsibility of the government to take care of the financial needs of the freedom fighters," said Subramanya, who was jailed for 12 months during the Quit India movement.
On Aug 9 state governor H.R. Bhardwaj hosted a reception for freedom fighters at his official residence, Raj Bhavan, to mark Mahatma Gandhi's Quit India call. It was there that the freedom fighters put forward their demands.
Their demands included an increase in their pension amount from 3,000 per month to 6,000, a hike in the amount they get for funeral rites from 1,000 to 5,000, jobs and education for their children and grandchildren and continuation of their pension to family members in case of their death.
The governor assured them that he would extend support and invited them to come and share their problems with him.
"If one of the compatriots has been forced to sell newspapers and tea, then it is a shame for the entire community. The government needs to address the issue," said a freedom fighter from Arsikere town in Hassan district, about 180 km from Bangalore.
"Why do we have to beg for our rights? It's the duty of the state to look after the needs of the freedom fighters," added the 89-year-old freedom fighter, who did not wish to be named.
According to figures available from the Karnataka Freedom Fighters Action Committee, there are around 5,000 surviving freedom fighters in the state now. The primary function of the committee is to address the problems of freedom fighters from across the state and seek the state's intervention to solve the problems.
However, the committee members have also warned the government not to entertain any fake cases. As of late there have been many fake cases of people claiming to be freedom fighters to get government benefits.
"The government should ask for a certificate and documents before considering the claim of a person to be a freedom fighter. Many dubious people in order to get government benefits are maligning the entire freedom fighters community of the country," said Sreenivasaiah.
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