“We were beaten up when we participated in the Quit India Movement. But we never felt bad then.”
Ninety-nine-year-old Chieddi Ram and his 85-year-old spouse Chamni Devi from Gooda district of Jharkhand are among the dissatisfied freedom fighters who launched a hunger strike near the Governor House here on Saturday.
Mr. Ram and his wife had applied several times for the freedom fighters' pension. The couple, who took part in the Salt Satyagraha and the Quit India Movement, was forced to join the hunger strike after the government turned down their applications.
“We never thought we would have to struggle so hard for our pension,” said Mr. Ram. “We went thrice to jail for this country. We were beaten up and denied food for days when we participated in the Quit India Movement and Salt Satyagraha. But we never felt bad then.”
Displaying documents, Mr. Ram said: “We were accused in criminal case No 161/1945 and sent to Dumka jail. We got bail and after that we participated in the freedom struggle.”
To a query, Mr. Ram said: “We applied for the freedom fighters' pension on July 21, 1981 to the then SDO, Godda, but never received any reply. We then tried sending Chamni Devi's application and it too was rejected. But we were never informed on what grounds it was rejected.”
Asked if they received any help from the government, Ms. Devi said: “Our application for old-age pension was also rejected as we don't have BPL card which is a required document to apply under the scheme. The government doesn't provide us any kind of help, we are on our own.”
According to government documents, there are 1,70,000 freedom fighters in the country. The Central government in May 2010 announced that it would provide freedom fighter pension to 60,000 people and the State governments would take care of the rest.
Every year, Rs. 750 crore is spent on the Freedom Fighter Pension Scheme and the Centre provides Rs. 12,400 to each freedom fighter. The State pension, however, differs from State to State.
“In Tamil Nadu, a freedom fighters gets Rs. 7,000, whereas in Karnataka and Maharashtra they get Rs. 6,000. In Gujarat it is Rs. 5,000 but in Jharkhand it is as low as Rs. 3,000 and even that is also denied by government officials,” said Jharkhand Senior Citizens' Association head Arun Kumar Pandey, who is assisting the couple.