It was an honour that came too late. Literally. Laxmi Indira Panda, 83, was unconscious after a brain stroke when the Home Ministry — after the intervention of President Pratibha Patil — decided to confer a Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension for her contribution to the freedom struggle.
Having spent the past 60 years in utter penury, washing utensils to eke out a living, Panda died this afternoon, without ever knowing that the country she fought for had finally recognised her worth.
The President, who had extended monetary help of Rs 10,000 to Panda, expressed her condolences. “The only person who recognised her worth was President Patil,” said Anil Dhir, who had been taking care of Panda in the last few months.
“She never got to know about the pension because she had the stroke by then, but whatever peace she got in her last days of consciousness was because of the President’s assurance that she would get due recognition,” Dhir said. A wreath will be placed on Panda’s body on behalf of the President.
Panda was at AIIMS for the past week, where she was airlifted in a critical condition from a government hospital. Her body is being flown to Bhubaneswar on Tuesday for last rites. “They may be giving her a state funeral,” Dhir said.
Had she lived, Panda “would have received about Rs 38 lakh from the government, as the President had asked that she be sanctioned the pension with effect from 1980,” said Dhir.