Sunday, June 6, 2010

‘We were better under the British’

Mumbai: More than six decades after Independence, freedom fighters who helped overthrow foreign rule are struggling against the bureaucracy of modern India.

“We were better under British rule,’’ wrote 82-year-old S J Chughani, president of the Mumbai Freedom Fighters Sabha, in recent letters to the state and central governments to express the sabha’s frustration at the slow pace at which applications for freedom fighter status, under the Centre’s Swatantra Sainik Samman Scheme, are approved.

Thousands across the nation still await ‘freedom fighter’ status and the pension and benefits that come with it. This includes at least 350 people from Mumbai and hundreds more across Maharashtra, which was a hotbed of the freedom movement.

Speaking of the Mumbai sabha’s experience, Chughani said, “I have exchanged innumerable letters with the President and written to various chief ministers of Maharashtra, but they do not even bother to reply.’’ The Mumbai sabha has around 380 members, but only 30 or so are recognised as patriots. The other 350 have been writing to officials for 20 years.

“I am sorry to say that in my last letter to the government I went to the extent of saying that we were better under British rule,’’ Chughani told TOI.

In fact, as recently as May 2010, the Bombay High Court had to tell the state government not to be unfair to Namdeo Gaikwad, whose plea for a pension had been pending before a state panel for several years. Gaikwad, in his 90s, fought for the liberation of Goa.

Pension Pain
400 people killed at Jallianwala Bagh on April 13, 1919, were recognised as martyrs only in December 2008, 89 years after their death

The Goa and Hyderabad liberation movements were included as part of the freedom struggle in 2003—43 years and 62 years, respectively, after the events

But many of the Goa and Hyderabad freedom fighters are yet to receive their pension

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