A woman living with 90 percent disability in West Bengal waits for her pension of a thousand rupees a month, while the administration shuts its doors on her and her husband.
In February 2016, the government officially decided to called persons with disabilities ‘divyang’ as opposed to the earlier ‘viklang’ which translates to ‘handicapped’. Sarveena Bibi is someone the government would call ‘divyang’, one with a divine body. But her reality is far from it.
Bibi took ill two decades ago when she was only 30 years old. Over the years, her condition worsened as her family could not afford the treatment. She has had an amputation since, is mostly unable to walk, and also requires hearing aid. As a result of the disability, she cannot work outside the home to earn or even carry out essential chores in the house. What compounds her situation is that her husband, Rafikul, is the only breadwinner in her family, who also has to take care of his ailing father.
The district hospital of Murshidabad, Bibi’s district, certified her to have 90 percent disability in 2014. While both central and state governments run various schemes for pension and other assistance for persons with above 40-50 percent disability, Bibi hasn’t received any support from the government.
Getting a disability certificate is often a major hurdle in itself, owing to a shortage of medical professionals and centres authorised to assess disability, bureaucratic processes and lackadaisical attitudes on part of concerned officials.
“I submitted my documents to the Panchayat Pradhan (village head) for my pension but he didn’t even see them, he threw them away,” recounts Bibi. Despite repeated visits to the Panchayat and block-level offices, Bibi has still not received her pension. She last submitted an application to the Panchayat office six months ago.
Sometimes, the very building where disability certificates are issued may not be accessible to a person with disability. Another problem disability rights activists have pointed towards is that the onus of obtaining the certificate lies on the intended beneficiary, not the government; many may not have the wherewithal to make repeated trips to government offices to get their certificates.
In West Bengal, only 58 percent of the people living with disability have been issued certificates. In Murshidabad, a regional news website reports that people are being made to pay bribes to get their certificates– thousand rupees and upwards for a monthly pension that could range from 300 to 1500 rupees. The pension amount in West Bengal has only recently been revised from 750 rupees to 1000 rupees after nine years, right before the panchayat elections earlier this year. Yet, many continue to be deprived of the pension altogether.
Disability rights activists have often demanded that the meagre pension amount be hiked. West Bengal offers a higher pension amount as compared to other states or even the central government which offers assistance of only 300 rupees a month under its scheme. However, under the West Bengal government’s Manabik scheme, only those with a family income below 1000 rupees per month are eligible to apply. This leaves many people in need outside of the eligibility bracket.
When Community Correspondent Nesatun Khatun visited the Pradhan to speak about Bibi’s case, he refused to give her an interview. Meanwhile, Rafikul cannot afford to sacrifice another day’s wage, which supports the family, to make yet another trip to the authorities in vain.
Support Sarveena and her family by calling Hadikul Islam, the Panchayat Pradhan of Khairamari, Murshidabad, at +91-9609423728, and urge him to ensure that her pension is released.
Video by Community Correspondent Nesatun Khatun
Article by Alankrita Anand, a member of the VV Editorial Team