Updated: January 30, 2020 12:09:32 pm
From a 59-year-old widow who works at a construction site to a 78-year-old who says he may have to go back to an old-age home to a “staunch Congressi” — they are among the 350 people who were until recently beneficiaries of a pension scheme for those detained under the Maintenance of Internal Security (MISA) during Emergency. But with the Chhattisgarh government now scrapping the scheme, many of them say they have been denied a much-needed financial support.
Under the Loknayak Jaiprakash Narayan (MISA/Defence of India Rules detainees) Samman Nidhi Rule, launched in 2008 by the then BJP government, people who spent three months in jail under MISA provisions during the Emergency were given Rs 10,000 a month. Those imprisoned for six months got Rs 15,000 a month and those jailed for over six months Rs 25,000. Under the rule, MISA detainees with no criminal cases were given pensions, and after their deaths, their wives were given half the amount.
In January 2019, soon after the Congress came to power in the state, the government stopped the payments, after which the beneficiaries moved court. With the case still pending in court, on January 23, the government scrapped the scheme, leaving many such as Shanti Chandra, a 59-year-old resident of Pihrid village in the Janjgir Champa district, “angry and helpless”. Pihrid has as many as 18 who were detained under MISA.
Her husband Jaleshwar Chandra was all of 17 when he was jailed in 1975, along with nine others from the village. Shanti says she was never happy being married to someone who was in jail, though he always was respected in the village. “All his life, I used to give my husband grief over his involvement in the protests during the Emergency. But after he died, the government started giving me the pension money in 2008. It helped me put my two daughters in school. How could the government simply stop that money,” says Shanti, who goes to work at a construction site 10 km from her village.
“We were all 17-18 years old and still in school when Jaiprakash Narayan called for nationwide protests. We used to clandestinely hear his messages on BBC Radio at night. We used to cycle for over 20-30 km to stage satyagrahas and distribute pamphlets,” recounts Gopalprasad Sharma, 75, another recipient of the pension in Pihrid village. Over the years, he found himself in the very party he fought against – Sharma is now a Congress worker – but says he continues to uphold some of those values. “We are still against censorship and unconstitutional activities as we were then,” says Sharma, who spent 19 months at the Bilaspur jail under MISA.
Calling the government’s decision to stop the scheme “unfair”, he adds, “Ministers in the Congress government say why should RSS members receive pension from us? Well, I am a Congressi and I still have to suffer.”
Lakshman Chandra, another “MISA-bandi” – as those jailed under the MISA Act are called – says, “Going to jail for the protection of democracy and our Constitution is a matter of pride for me. No government can take that away. But after paying us money for over 10 years, if the government stops everything suddenly, where do they expect old people to go?”
Omprakash, a 78-year-old resident of Raipur, says the pension restored his self-respect, but with the money stopped, he has been left in the lurch. “After several fights at home, my sons had sent me to an old-age home. But in 2008, when the government announced that I would be felicitated and paid a monthly pension, my sons came and begged me to come back. I agreed and left the old-age home, but didn’t give my sons a single penny from the pension. These last seven years, I have been on my own,” says Omprakash, who is now considering going back to the old-age home.
Asit Bhattacharya, a 67-year-old Raipur resident who was the first petitioner in the case against the state government, says he is ready for a long, legal battle. “If needed, I will go to the Supreme Court. I wasn’t afraid of the government then and I am not afraid now,” he says, recalling his fight during the Emergency. “I was a college student and knew I had to stand up to the government. Jaiprakash Narayan had inspired me and my friends and we all wanted to be revolutionaries,” he says.
Kirti Chouhan, a MISA-bandi widow from Raipur, says that with her pension stopped, she will have to get back to her acupuncture practice that she had discontinued several years ago. “My daughter is married. I had a heart operation done last year and I used the pension money for my medicines. Now, I will have to depend on my daughter,” she says.
Advocate Supriya Upasane, who represents the pensioners in the Bilaspur High Court, says, “The High Court had asked the government to pay the arrears. Instead of paying the money, they scrapped the rule. We will carry on fighting for the Samman Nidhi.”
Advocate General Satish Verma, who is representing the state government in court, however, says, “No court of law ever found them (beneficiaries of the scheme) to be victims. They protested, went against the law and were thus jailed. We are not under any compulsion to pay the pension. It was an earlier government’s decision and we have changed it.”
“The decision is clearly revenge tactic by the Congress. The government hardly needed Rs 8 crore a year for this pension. The felicitation money should, in fact, have been used to encourage the younger generation that is taking to the streets now. This is a meagre amount for the government but meant a lot for these old people. Taking it away is a bad decision by the government,” says Virendra Pandey, a politician who was earlier in the BJP.
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