Tanju Devi is proof that a single individual’s unwavering determination can result in change for an entire community.
The National Social Assistance Programme (NSAP) offers financial assistance to elders, widows and persons with disabilities who fall below the poverty line. This pension is the sole source of income for many, and delays in the delivery of pensions leave many individuals struggling to make ends meet.
Citizens of Gaunaha, in West Champaran district of Bihar, were forced to wait for close to a year for their pension. Repeated pleas to the authorities fell on deaf ears and the citizens found themselves unsure of how to get their voice heard.
Tanju Devi, a Community Correspondent, was approached by Bhuri Devi, her differently-abled neighbour, to help with the problem.
“When Bhuri approached me with this problem, I could relate to her. I have a differently-abled husband and an aging mother-in-law. I know how important even a few hundred rupees is in an impoverished person’s life. It means food, medicine and security to many,” Tanju says.
Over the last decade, Tanju, a Video Volunteers Correspondent from West Champaran, Bihar, has actively lent her support to a multitude of issues and rallies in her village, which is nestled between the forests of the Indo-Nepal border. She firmly believes that once a community comes together to solve problems, anything is possible.
Determined to bring justice to all, Tanju set forth to show her community how persistence can translate into accountability and change on the part of authorities. She recorded video testimonials of those affected. She then met the Gaunaha Block Development Officer (BDO), and show the officer her videos as well as a requisition letter for the pensions.
“Initially, the BDO gave assurances but there was no action from the department. I was determined to get the pensioner’s arrears cleared. I kept increasing the pressure on the BDO – sometimes with a women’s group, sometimes alone and sometimes by showing her pictures of the village meeting I had organised,” Tanju tells us.
Finally, after five months of relentless efforts and community pressure, the BDO was forced into action. She assigned officers to conduct an investigation into the panchayat’s actions and clear the arrears.
On 14th May 2016, as many as 3,000 beneficiaries were called in a community gathering in Gaunaha and were given their due arrears.
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“I shall buy ration and medicines with this money,” said Bhuri.
While Bhuri is relieved that her pension has started once more, one wonders how a disability pension of Rs. 300 per month (Rs. 13.33 per day), can cover the cost of the most basic human needs like health, shelter, electricity and clothing. At Rs. 400 per month, the widow and elderly pension is only marginally better.
The failure of these social pension schemes to support the survival of the needy is demonstrated by the ‘revised’ old-age pension scheme. In 2008, the Government of India raised the old-age pension from Rs. 300 to Rs. 400. However, its inability to cover the most basic needs is evident by the data of the 2011 Census. According to the data, more than 1.17 crore people over the age of 70 are still working in India, with a majority of them being full-time employees. Of these, 25 lakh are over the age of 80.
Tanju Devi shows, however, that even one person can bring about a substantial change in the lives of others, if one only tries.