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Ex-soldiers now fight for their just rewards

Bangladesh's aging and ailing freedom fighters

Walton Mrong, a tribal Garo freedom fighter who became a security guard for survival Walton Mrong, a tribal Garo freedom fighter who became a security guard for survival
  • Sumon Nongmin, Mymensingh
  • Bangladesh
  • July 17, 2012
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With his coffin draped by the national flag, a police guard of honor and a gun salute, 60-year-old Vascor Chiran was laid to rest last week.

He fought heroically for Bangladesh in its bloody struggle for independence of 1971. But he may have willingly swapped those graveside tributes for a little more assistance while alive.

Despite his war record and the long standing chronic diseases that paralyzed him, he had to subsist on a monthly allowance of 2,000 taka (US$ 25.)

At least two more renowned freedom fighters, Sushil Mankhin and Nimesh Chiran, are still alive and enduring the same conditions.

“I’ve been suffering from various diseases for a long time, but nobody has responded to my pleas for help. This is very painful for someone who risked his life for the country’s independence,” said Chiran.

An estimated 70,000 Bengali and native tribals saw active service in 1971, against the occupying army of Pakistan. The nine-month engagement left around three million people killed and 200,000 women raped, while an estimated 10 million were forced to flee for shelter in neighboring India.

After independence was won, those who fought for it were promised rewards and opportunities in the newborn country. But for many, the rewards have simply never arrived.

A government ministry, set up to serve the veterans’ interests, has been dogged from the start by accusations of inefficiency, negligence  and graft.

At the outset, it failed to compile an accurate list of beneficiaries. The list is still widely thought to be riddled with fake names, while the monthly allowance, education discounts and other benefits fail to reach many of the people who genuinely deserve them.

The situation is worse for people from tribal groups, who often lack the  education and confidence to manipulate the system.

“Our pleas often don’t reach the higher levels because we are not in a position to make our voice heard,” said Jatindra Chisim, director of a tribal cultural academy.

Nazim Uddin Ahmed is district head of Bangladesh Muktijoddha Sangsad, a state-recognized group that acts on behalf of the ex-soldiers. “It doesn’t matter whether they’re Bengali or tribal, they merit equal rights and honor,” he said.

His group works to ensure that individuals’ details are correctly recorded with the ministry, so that they receive the entitlements due to them, and is currently campaigning to raise the monthly allowance to 5,000 taka (US$ 61).

“We try our level best to ensure that the rights and privileges do reach the freedom fighters,” he said. “But whatever we do is insufficient, no doubt.”

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