In the early Forties, Dhanbad’s firebrand coal union leader Imamul Hai Khan fought hard to win India Independence. Decades down the line, his widow is still fighting, albeit to win freedom fighter title for her husband.
Sexagenarian Mumtaz Minu Khan has written over hundred letters to governments and authorities, requesting that Khan — also a former minister in the unified Bihar government — be granted the status he indisputably deserves. All she has received since his demise in 1983 are hollow assurances.
Last week, Saraidhela resident Minu met chief minister Hemant Soren in Ranchi with her plea. Once again, she was promised help. Hemant is learnt to have directed the Dhanbad district administration to take necessary steps.
Deputy commissioner Prashant Kumar confirmed having received instructions. “We are probing the application for further action,” he said briefly.
Exhausted she might be, but Minu isn’t ready to give up yet. She swears to take her battle to a logical end. “My daughters are married. I live alone and make do with whatever pension my late husband gets as a former MLA. But, he deserves more.”
Khan, who took part in the freedom struggle between 1937 and 1947, and went to Hazaribagh jail four times, was elected from Baghmara Assembly constituency in 1972. He later became a minister in the Kedar Pandey-led Congress government in Bihar.
He had first applied for the grant as a freedom hero in 1982, a decade after the Union government during silver jubilee celebrations of Independence introduced the Swatantrata Sainik Samman Pension Scheme.
The elaborate criteria laid under the scheme included at least six months of imprisonment, arrest warrant, detention and property confiscation by the British. More importantly, dependants had to furnish documentary evidence to avail of the pension.
Since many genuine claimants had no supporting documents, the Centre, in 1996, amended the scheme. The new guidelines said that in the absence of documents, the testimony of a co-freedom fighter would be required.
Minu claimed that in undivided Bihar and after Jharkhand was formed in 2000, she had made umpteen representations before the states and the Centre. But, successive governments never bothered to proceed on her request.
Late Chandranand Jha, who had taken part in the freedom movement along with Khan, too had written a letter of recommendation in 2000. Jha said Khan, he and others were arrested in 1942. Khan escaped from police custody. In 1944, he was once again netted and sent to Hazaribagh jail, where he stayed till April 1945.
In August that year, Khan, Jha and others attacked a police party at Sonvarsha. Five freedom fighters died in the police firing. Khan landed in jail later.
Contemporary history books like Swatantrata Sangram Bhuli-Bisri Kadiyan by Babu Mukutdhari Singh and Ateet Vartaman aur Bhabhishya by Brahmadeo Sharma also mention Khan as a freedom fighter.
The government probably wants documentary evidence, which the widow is unable to furnish. In 1984, Minu wrote a letter to Hazaribagh jail authorities, seeking records of her husband. It was not replied to. In 2009, her son-in-law Atiullah Khan filed an RTI plea. The jail informed that no record of 1937-47 was available!
“I don’t know when he will get his due honour. I wrote more than hundred letters to officials and ministers in this regard. All I got are empty promises. After his death, many important documents related to his freedom struggle went missing. However, many who took part in the fight for Independence along with him have testified in the case. What else does the government want?” the 65-year-old widow said.
She added: “It is my misfortune, but I am not responsible if records are missing.”
Khan’s case is not singular. Freedom fighter Chedi Ram too is seeking the special grant. The 102-year-old Godda resident had even met President Pranab Mukharjee during his Jharkhand visit last year. He is yet to see a single penny as pension under the central scheme.