Fighting for a better India; 60 yrs & counting
The times have changed, but Mahatma Gandhi continues to be the lodestone for a group of freedom fighters in Orissa who still wage a struggle for a better tomorrow.Updated: Aug 01, 2007 12:20 IST
The times have changed, but Mahatma Gandhi continues to be the lodestone for a group of freedom fighters in Orissa who 60 years ago fought for India's independence and still wage a struggle for a better tomorrow - this time for healthcare, roads and basic telecommunications.
Every morning the group of four men begin their day by paying homage to a statue of Mahatma Gandhi installed at the entrance to their village, Panimora, in Orissa's Bargarh district, about 400 km from the state capital Bhubaneswar.
In the twilight of their lives, Chamaru Paradhia, Dayanidhi Naik, Madan Bhoi and Jitendra Pradhan are no longer the young men they used to be when they told the British to 'Quit India'. But the zeal is intact, as is the vision for the future.
"We had thought our struggle for freedom will bring a solution to all problems. But it did not. We are forced to fight another battle, now for essential health services, roads and communications that we never thought of," said Paradhia, who at 96 is the oldest of the surviving four freedom fighters in the village.
Paradhia is often seen participating in rallies, organising protests in the village against the government and the local administration's apathy towards their problems.
The others in the quartet are in the 80s, their faces wizened with age and their vision blurred with deteriorating eyesight. That in no way dulls the clarity with which they view the situation in their village of only 3,000 people.
Panimora has had a history of struggle. Thirty-two people were jailed during the 1942 'Quit India' movement, of which only four are alive.
While the rest of the country, and indeed the state, has moved on, Panimora stays stuck in a time warp. There are only thatched huts, no villager lives in a brick and concrete house and there are no phones either.
"The village has a primary health centre but most of the time the doctor is absent. We don't get essential healthcare in the village and often need to travel 50 to 60 km for treatment," Paradhia told IANS.
And how do they travel the 50 to 60 km when the access road itself is full of potholes?
"The eight-kilometre road that connects our village to the block headquarters is not in a good condition. It has not been repaired for the last five years," complained 82-year-old Madan Bhoi.
"We launched protests several times. The four of us demonstrated, submitted memorandums along with the villagers to the local administration but nothing happened."
His comrades recall the number of times they have demonstrated outside the telephone office at the block headquarters in Sohela to no avail; and how the village road was taken up under the Pradhan Mantri Grama Sadak Yojana (Prime Minister Rural Roads Project) last year.
But the administration has yet to start work. It says it has heard the call for help.
"The administration recognises the need of the villagers and the freedom fighters. We honour them every year," said District Collector Harihar Panigrahi.
"We are also taking steps to repair roads and taking steps to provide to the people better healthcare facilities," he added.
But the fighters dismiss this as a promise they have heard once too often and claim they will continue their fight until their basic requirements are fulfilled.
The British have long gone, and much of India has transformed with wide roads, telephone towers and cyber cafes every one kilometre.
But in one corner of India, a group of four men continue their fight with a prayer to the ubiquitous Gandhi statue that in this village is not just tokenism to a hallowed past. The years since 1947 and failed promises have not made them cynics. The idealism still shines through, prompting others to work and dream on.
First Published: Aug 01, 2007 11:16 IST