Lives that Matter

Salma Razi
Recently deceased Fatima Begum, had to spend a life full of miseries while she was alive. A resident of Sawajian panchayat in Mandi block in Poonch district of Jammu and Kashmir, this physically disabled woman spent years in a dilapidated room without any support. As long as her husband was alive, she could receive some assistance, but when he passed away in 2017, she was left to fend for herself. She struggled to make ends meet as she received no benefit from schemes meant for people with disabilities.
The couple had no children, and after the husband’s death, Fatima’s sister was the only one who would assist her. While commenting on Fatima’s situation, Shahraz Gilami, 37, a local from the village, highlighted the flawed and biased panchayat system that exists in the region. “Soon after winning the election, the sarpanch relocated away from the village; unbothered about the situation of the people here. The information about different government schemes that should be circulated through the Panchayat, never reaches the needy people in our village,” he rued.
Like Fatima, Abdul Ahad Mir, Ahmed Din Mir, and Ghulam Rasool Daar alias Lassa, all above 70 years of age, are deprived of benefiting from pension schemes for people with disability.
Mohammed Azam, the Welfare Officer, Department of Social Welfare, Mandi, also stressed the loophole in the functioning of the local authority. “The Sarpanch has given me in writing that there are no elderly, disabled, or anyone eligible for various pension schemes in his village. But when I had visited the village in the past to enquire about the the situation, I was disappointed when I had come across Fatima and others who were in need of our assistance.”
He further added, “We never received any files or information regarding the elderly, disabled people. The sarpanch and the ward panch are responsible for not conducting the official procedure and keeping the eligible people from receiving the benefits of the social welfare schemes.”
“Information regarding these schemes come to the sarpanch who does not live here. Regarding the disability pension, eligible applicants are required to file applications on their own; there is nothing we can help them with other than guidance.”
Village representatives have a primary role in implementing the schemes at the ground level. Although there are a plethora of government schemes, the gaps in implementation makes it harder for the beneficiaries to avail them. Furthermore, accurate data collection should be undertaken more diligently as it sets the base for the effective execution of these well-thought schemes.
Muralidharan Vishwanath, the General Secretary of the National Platform for the Rights of Disabled (NPRD), highlighted in a report how the absence of official data on inadequate housing and shelters, water and sanitation services, health and environmental challenges, and poverty among people with disabilities leads to making their plight invisible. As a result, they continue to be neglected and excluded from the system.
(The writer is a student of Class 12 from Mandi, Poonch.)
Charkha Features