Elderly Women on the Breadline
The Teesta River basin village - Wapda Kalmati of the Khuniyagachh union in Lalmonirhat Sadar Upazila is home to many people, but mostly the elderly and the widows, who are not receiving any old age or widow allowance. Instead they are forced to knock on the doors of their local UP chairman, where they are given the same answer every time.
S Dilip Roy
In the village of Wapda Kalmati there are several widows, three of whom are - Prema Dashi (age 90), Obezan Bewa (age 80) and Khuki Bala Moi (age 85). When interviewed, the three widows said that their cultivatable land and homestead were lost to the Teesta River a few years ago, since then they have been living on the government road. Prema Dashi is a mother of six - Bijoy Roy (age 70), Binod Roy (age 65), Binoy Roy (age 50), Basonti Rani (age 68), Meneka Rani (age 60), and Bithika Rani (age 48), of whom three daughters are married. Her three sons are struggling trying to make enough money just to survive. Dashi said, “None of my three sons have any land to call their own, because of which we are forced to live on the government road, all this happened about 20 years ago when my husband passed away. I was forced to take shelter with my sons, who can sometimes afford to feed me, when they can't - I have to go out begging for food and since I'm very old I find it hard to walk for long. I just have to hope and pray that I don't go hungry another day”. “I went to the local UP office many times for enlisting my name in the elderly and widow allowance list but I never got the chance,” she told. “If I get allowance, it will help me to support my livelihood for more days than usual.”
Obezan Bewa (age 80), widow of late Ahmed told us that she has a son Rahman Ali (age 55), and three daughters that are all married but find it difficult to maintain a minimum living standard. Her son Rahman Ali is not capable of maintaining his family properly, so she can't get any food or help from her son's house. Her husband died 15 years ago and since then she has depended solely on begging. “I'm entirely dependent on begging but I can't go out regularly due to physical problems” said she. “I'm not only old but also a widow and physically challenged. I don't get government allowance for being an elderly person, a widow or physically challenged, even though I'm eligible for all three.”
“Many aged people from well-run families enjoy government allowance but I am yet to get it. I went to the houses and the offices of local UP chairman and to several other members but all they gave me were promises,” she added. Another elderly widow - Khuki Bala Moi (age 85), whose husband - Khoka Ram Roy passed away 10 years ago. Khuki Bala Moi doesn't have any children to take care of her so she takes shelter in her relative's house. Some of her relatives give meals from time to time but it isn't regular. So she begs for food. Khuki Bala Moi told us, “Like me there are many elderly widows in the village and all they are deprived of government allowance. Local UP chairman and members in unison with the social welfare officials only enlist the elderly and widows names for allowance after taking unofficial payments and since we can't pay, we are deprived from getting any allowance whatsoever.”
According to an official source in the Lalmonirhat district's social welfare office - a total of 36,804 people are getting government allowance in the district. Of the total figure 23,895 get elderly allowance, 10,243 get widow allowance and 2,666 get physically challenged allowance in the five upazilas of the district.
According to Abdur Razzak, a UP member of the Khuniyagachh union in Lalmonirhat Sadar upazila, a total of 785 people get allowances out of which, 510 get elderly allowance, 220 get widow allowance and 55 get physically challenged allowance.
He also said that he is a newly elected UP member, so he doesn't know about the past activities of the UP members and he assures us that he will try his level best to confirm enlisting the names of the old, the spouseless and the physically challenged for receiving government allowance.
Kahiruzzaman Mandol, Khuniyagachh the UP chairman said, “There are many old aged, widow and physically challenged people in his union but the government support is limited. So unfortunately, not all of them will get the chance to receive government allowance. No, the allegations of corruption in enlisting elderly people are not true. Social welfare officials directly visit people door to door and prepare lists just for this facility,” he said.
Lalmonirhat Sadar upazila social welfare officer Moshiur Rahman told us, “Social welfare officials with the help of the local UP chairman and its members prepare name lists for the people who are eligible for the government allowance and then provide allowance through a banking system.”
He expressed his wishes to visit the area and try his level best to enlist their names in the allowance list as soon as possible.
(R) thedailystar.net 2012