Bhopal gas tragedy victims launch fast to demand resumption of pension
4,998 women, who lost their husbands, await ₹1,000 a month since December last year.by Sidharth Yadav
A group of women who lost their husbands in the Bhopal gas tragedy began a relay fast here on Monday demanding the resumption of ₹1,000 a month pension pending disbursal since December last year.
The elderly women, who say they took the step as the State government refused to listen otherwise, have threatened to go on an indefinite hunger strike from Wednesday in the Jeevan Jyoti colony, meant for widows, if no one acted. The pension was initiated in 2011 for 4,998 women with an assistance of ₹30 crore from the Centre.
Kala Bai, 86, a papad-maker who fasted, felt death was better than the denial of a life with dignity. “I am not afraid to give up food to demand my right. In any case, we are old and nearing the end of our lives. The tragedy was no fault of ours but we lost our families,” said Ms. Bai, a blood pressure patient, who has accrued a debt of ₹4-5,000 to buy medicines, which the pension earlier covered. “The government doesn’t care for the elderly.”
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Only ration procured through the public distribution system is keeping most of them, many left to fend for themselves alone at home, alive. “I used to buy oil, chillies and salt with the pension, and bought medicines for diabetes and pain in joints,” said Lali Bali, who says she is around 65.
“We are compelled to stage a sit in as it’s a question of our survival now,” said Anisha Bi, 81, who’s accrued a debt of ₹70,000 which mounted after the pension stopped. The pension lent her, a son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren a sense of security, missing during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic when her son was left without work. “We are being harassed even during the fag-end of our lives.”
“Betrayal of sorts”
The 2011-12 annual report of the Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief and Rehabilitation Department announced the women would be given “lifelong pension”. Balkrishna Namdeo of the Gas Peedit Nirashrit Pension Bhogi Sangharsh Morcha said, “This is a betrayal of sorts. All political leaders are busy focusing on the byelection, not on the widows of one of the world’s worst industrial disasters.” In 1984, a methyl isocyanate leak from a pesticide plant here killed and crippled thousands.
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“The pension was only for a limited time, but was extended. The Congress stopped it later during its regime,” a senior BJP leader said. Bhopal Gas Tragedy Relief & Rehabilitation Minister Vishvas Sarang told The Hindu, “We will try our best to restart the pension scheme and write to the Centre regarding it.”