Requesting the Pakistani authorities for assistance seemed the only way in which the Delhi High Court thought it could help an 82-year-old woman trying to establish her late husband as a freedom fighter.
Proving that Sali Ram was indeed a freedom fighter,who spent months in a jail in Lahore in 1931,would make Bhota Devi eligible for a pension payable by the Central government under the Swatantrata Senani Samman Pension Scheme.
Age and ailment havent deterred Bhota Devi to travel with her her son from Kangra in Himachal Pradesh to Delhi, only to be told that her request could not be granted since she did not have records to prove that her husband was lodged in jails for more than six months a precondition to be eligible for the pension. The government said it did not have documents dating 1930-31 to verify if Ram was imprisoned in Lahore. All they could ascertain was his 39 days in Dharamsala and Gurdaspur prisons in 1930-31.
Justice Vipin Sanghi brought a ray of hope for Bhota Devi with his order last week in which he said,Since the claim of the petitioner,who is over 80 years of age,is for establishment of status of her late husband as a freedom fighter,and for seeking Freedom Fighters Pension,this court requests the Pakistani authorities to act in the matter and to give a response on the information sought in respect of her late husband at the earliest possible. Justice Sanghi asked Central governments counsel Jatan Singh to ensure that the order was sent to the Pakistan High Commission and communicated to Lahore Jail authorities. The court agreed with Bhota Devis counsel Anand Mishra,who had requested it to direct the Ministry of Home Affairs to seek help of the External Affairs Ministry in invoking diplomatic channels with Pakistan in a time-bound manner so as to retrieve information available.
Bhota Devi and her son Vikram said: This court order is like a light at the end of tunnel. It is the third round of litigation for us,besides several reminders and notices sent to the authorities. Now that the judge has sent a communication straight to Pakistan,we hope Rams identity will finally be proved.
Bhota Devi recalls that her children grew up listening to the tales of how their father spent months in Lahores childrens jail in 1931. He was arrested for participating in the freedom movement. He was then residing at Nadaun in Himachal Pradeshs Hamirpur district. He was first lodged in Dharamsala jail,then shifted to Central Jail,Gurdaspur and finally sent to Borstal Institution in Lahore since he was only 15 at that time, she said. Ram passed away in 1986. Ten years later,his children stumbled upon a box in their house that had documents pertaining to his involvement in the freedom movement.
These papers comprised a letter from the Central government asking my father to submit documents to get his freedom fighters pension. There were also declaration letters by two other persons,who were his co-prisoners in Lahore jail. We travelled to Delhi in 1997 but our request was turned down citing non-availability of records, said Vikram.
After reminders in 2007 failed to elicit any response,Bhota Devi filed her first petition in the Delhi HC in 2011. The court dismissed her plea,underlining that she did not have enough proof. But her appeal was taken up on humanitarian grounds by the then Chief Justice,who directed the government to have a correspondence with authorities in Pakistan in three months time.
This directive failed to yield any result. The Central government wrote to the Himachal Pradesh government to verify the documents again. We were back to square one. That is why we filed this contempt of court petition before Justice Sanghi and with this order our hopes have been revived, said Vikram.