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Ex-soldiers now fight for their just rewards
Bangladesh's aging and ailing freedom fightersWalton Mrong, a tribal Garo freedom fighter who became a security guard for survival
- Sumon Nongmin, Mymensingh
- July 17, 2012
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.
â€śIâ€™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 countryâ€™s independence,â€ť 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 veteransâ€™ interests, has been dogged from the start by accusations of inefficiency, negligence Â 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 theÂ education and confidence to manipulate the system.
â€śOur pleas often donâ€™t reach the higher levels because we are not in a position to make our voice heard,â€ť 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. â€śIt doesnâ€™t matter whether theyâ€™re Bengali or tribal, they merit equal rights and honor,â€ť he said.
His group works to ensure that individualsâ€™ 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).
â€śWe try our level best to ensure that the rights and privileges do reach the freedom fighters,â€ť he said. â€śBut whatever we do is insufficient, no doubt.â€ť
Once freedom fighting heroes, now forgotten