Once a proud soldier of Ranj Jhansi Regiment of Netjaji Subhas Chandra Bose?s, Indian National Army (INA), a woman in Orissa is now living a dejected life.
Laxrni Panda, the 75-year-old widow who along with other soldiers carried guns and fought against the British in Rangoon and Singapore, is feeding her children and grandchildren by washing utensils at different households in Jeypore town.
Laxmi along with her children and grandchildren lives in a small and dirty room in the Nagarchi Lane. Thanks to the apathy of authorities, who despite her repeated appeals, have failed to provide her a piece of land and provide some consolable means of livelihood.
With poverty choking her voice everyday, Laxmi rather painfully wants to forget Kadam kadam badhayeja, khushi ke geet gaye ja.
?This line was very close to my heart. I would murmur it and sing it in my every breath. But now I want to forget this line as it has lost its meaning for the people in the administrative setup,? rued Laxmi.
Apart from washing dishes, Laxmi sells dolls on a handcart on the streets of Jeypore in the evening. Her son Surendra runs makeshift vegetable shop in the same town and earns around Rs 25 everyday which, says Laxmi, is not sufficient for sustenance of the family.
Once a carefree and bubbly housewife, Laxmi, today appears as a picture of despair and stoicism.
Contemporaries of Laxmi in Jeypore still recount how Netaji had suggested that she should change her name. ?There are so many Laxmis. Your captain'sname is also Laxmi (Laxmi Sehgal). Netaji is believed to have told her, before suggesting a new name, Indira,? said some elderly people of Nagarchi Lane.
The frail freedom fighter earns Rs 300 per month from her domestic help work and gets meagre state pension of Rs 700. It'sdifficult for ten people to fit into a single room.
?I have been approaching the district administration time and again for allotting a piece of land. The local tehsildar has asked me to identify the land. I have shown him several plots of my choice, but no land has been allotted yet,? she said.
Originally Laxmi hails from Burma (present Myanmar) where her parents were settled. Soon after her father'sdeath, Laxmi joined the INA along with her younger brother Nakul at the age of 12.
?I was inspired by Netaji'scall. At the age on 12, I was inducted to the Rani Jhansi regiment,? she says, adding, her brother was drafted to the Bal Sena of INA. Laxmi had her training at the Rangoon camp, she got training on how to use the rifle and sword to fight the British.
Soon after the dismantling of the Rangoon camp, Laxmi moved to Singapore. In 1945-46, she was caught by the British army. She pretended to be a deaf and dumb which resulted in her release. She managed to escape to Burma and then Calcutta (now Kolkota) by ship. After spending two-days at Netaji'shouse in Kolkota, she returned to Pital village in Ganjam district, the native place of her foster-father Krushna Chandra Tripathy, an INA leader.
Laxmi married to Khageswar Panda of Belpur village under Buguda block in Ganjam district. Khageswar was fellow INA member who fought along with her in Rangoon and Singapore. Khageswar worked as a dozer operator in Hirakud and Rourkela. After his retirement, the couple settled in Jeypore.
Laxmi'sstruggle for existence started 15 years ago, when she lost her husband. She was forced single-handedly to shoulder the responsibility of bringing up her two sons and a daughter as her husband died almost penniless.
Thirty-five years ago, the State government used to pay Laxmi, the only Oriya woman in the INA, a political sufferer'spension (now known as Freedom Fighter'sPension) of Rs 35 per month. The amount was later raised to Rs 700.
The freedom fighters made representations to the government to get the central pension, but without success. It'sbeen 25 years now but the promise has remained just that.
General Secretary of the All India INA Committee Captain S.S. Yadav wrote to the Freedom Fighters? Division of the Union Home Ministry in October last year requesting expeditious sanction of the freedom fighter'spension to Laxmi, as she has a certificate issued by N.C. Dash, lieutenant of INA. However, the Home Ministry has asked her to furnish documents from two associates or co-prisoners. ?I was in the Rangoon camp. How can I get certificates now??, she asks.