War for rights: ’62 widows look for peace on home front
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Talking to 80-year-old Malti Jagtap, one cannot miss the big bindi on her forehead. She sports it with the firm belief that her husband Subedar Major Madhavrao Jagtap, missing since the 1962 action, will return one day. Like her, two others —the rest of the wives of the seven 1962 martyrs' widows allotted homes in a specially created colony called Virsmriti have passed away — keep their hopes afloat defying all odds.
What they seem to have failed to fight are the odds heaped against them in the colony they live.
Created in 1968, Virsmriti with its 24 tenements of 500 sq ft each was handed over to 24 widows of the 1962 and 1965 wars on gift deeds. The colony had a collapsible gate and a garden. The residents had sewing machines, educational books and magazines, a watchman, a sweeper, and 24X7 water and electricity.
Fifty years since the Sino-Indian conflict, the colony wears a neglected look, the fencing is broken and pigs loiter inside. A nullah enters the colony spreading stench and making life miserable for its residents. There is neither watchman nor sweeper. Drinking water taps are next to the nullah. The cantonment board waterline no longer supplies water. The residents depend on borewell water.
"The drainage line has been laid down 50 years ago. There has been no repairs since. It smells and creates unhygienic conditions. We have repeatedly approached the Pune Cantonment Board (PCB) and the Zilla Sainik Welfare Board (ZSWB) for basic living facilities, a watchman and a decent fence given the residents are old and vulnerable to robberies and theft, besides a sweeper. The PCB says they do not have a role to play as the land belongs to the Ministry of Defence. What they do not forget is to come asking for votes during elections. This is not how a nation pays tribute to its martyrs," said Kamal Patil, 73, whose husband Naik Clerk Vitthalrao Patil went missing from Tawang in 1962. She single-handedly brought up three daughters who are now married and settled.
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