It is a phone-call she has been desperately waiting for. It came, but 60 years late.
When the phone-call came on Friday to inform Laxmi Indira Panda that the government of India had finally recognised her as a freedom fighter, offering help under the Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension scheme, it made little sense for her.
For, she was battling for her life at a government hospital in Cuttack. The 83-year-old soldier of the Indian National Army, led by Subhas Chandra Bose, sustained a brain-stroke 13 days ago.
Anil Dhir, in whose house Panda has been staying for the past three months, says the Centre’s grant is “too little, too late.” Before getting shelter at Dhir’s house, Panda was reduced to washing utensils to eke out a living.
The recognition, however, came only after President Pratibha Patil personally wrote to the Home Ministry, requesting the government to take note of Panda’s plight.
Dhir said the President was the only person who took heed of the abysmal poverty that Bose’s protégé lived in. When the two met at Rashtrapati Bhavan on August 18, the President asked Panda, “How may I help you?” Panda replied, “I want nothing.” Dhir said, “Then the President asked me what she could do for mataji (Laxmi Indira Panda). I said she needs a place to stay.”
Dhir said, “She is in a poor shape. She is in the ICU for the past 12 days, and I’m not happy with the quality of treatment here. The President has assured me that she will get mataji treated at AIIMs. But even for that the state government doctors have to give clearance… I hope they will do that.”
He said, “I’m trying to meet the Orissa CM to expedite medical clearances. Moving to AIIMS may not save her life. she is 83. At least, we will have the satisfaction that everything that needs to be done will be done.”