No ex gratia, no compassionate employment: A woman’s suffering whose peon husband went missing from the polling station

Sunaina has an onerous bundle of documents of grievance redressal but her sufferings remain intact.

Sunaina Devi, an illiterate, has knocked all the available doors after her husband disappeared eight years ago but her struggle is yet to end.

“My hopes diminished with his disappearance,” says Sunaina Devi, 62, of her husband who went missing on April 28, 2011. “His paltry income was the light in our darkness, what else is there for the poor who have to struggle till the last breath.”

Basant Prasad, who was due to retire in two years, was sent to Thakraha village of Thakrahan tehsil of Paschim Champaran District[of Bihar] as a polling officer to conduct General Panchayat Elections. Prasad, a peon in Maharani Janki Kunwar (M.J.K.) College of BR Ambedkar University Bihar University since 1970s, was not feeling well to go on the duty. Sunaina Devi pleaded before the college official for clemency but her request was denied.

“He had a severe headache and fever for many days,” Sunaina adds.

Sunaina also had sent son Sanjay Prasad [with him] to look after Basant. Sanjay, who is a daily wage labourer, tells us that he fell asleep at noon just a day ahead of polling. As he woke up, he failed to find his father in the polling station. He searched nearby villages but there was no trace of him. None saw Basant leaving the centre. A complaint was registered on May 5th after all the efforts went in vain.

Sunaina, an illiterate, also contacted local reporters to highlight the issue. A reporter robbed her of Rs. 1,500 and promised her to run her story but it never happened. Sunaina with her son and daughter-in-law sat on several hunger strikes in college campus to speed up the process to trace her husband. On 8 August, 2011, Superintended of Police responded to Sunaina’s plea that the effort was being made to trace Mr. Prasad.

“U ta ek bhala manush ke daya bhael ki Manavdhikar me likhle tah hamar temporary me lagal (One gentleman wrote to Human Rights Commission about my suffering, this is why college hired me on a temporary job),” says Sunaina.

Responding to National Human Rights Commission’s reprimand in November, 2011, Prof. Vimal Kumar, then Vice-Chancellor of BRABU, wrote that university would employ Basant Prasad’s wife thus to save family from starvation and poverty. An N.G.O. which was issued a tender of the university catered the job of peon to Sunaina on a monthly stipend of Rs. 3,300 which was far less than her husband’s salary of Rs. 15,000 per month. Sunaina thinks that this was done to compromise NHRC’s pressure.

Basant’s house, his last vestige, will soon be somebody else’s.

Sunaina is now forced to work as a maid to support the family needs; she receives Rs. 1,500 and Rs. 1,200 from the two houses where she works as a daily housekeeper. Sunaina also has the responsibility of the family of her widowed daughter Sita who is unable to work because of the polio affected leg.

Basant’s bank account was closed as it was not a joint-account. Sunaina couldn’t access a single penny in spite of being a nominee. Sunaina says, “They ask for the death certificate but I do not have it.” The minimum time period to officially observe the death of someone in absentia in India is 7 years [according to sections 107 and 108 of the Evidence Act] but Sunaina is yet to get death certificate after eight years since she last saw her husband.

Basant’s payment for the college job was withheld due to his continuous absence. Sunaina laments,”Banko ka account ke paisa rok dehlakh, paymento band kar dehlakh auri muawajo na dehlakh. (The withdrawing facility for the bank account was suspended, his payment was terminated, and no monetary compensation was ever made.) ” “They [officials] don’t even have mercy for the poor. Where will we go?”

Dr Paswan recently wrote to V-C to employ someone from Basant’s family on the compassionate ground.

Dr. Ramashray Paswan, principal of MJK College, writing to V-C of the university noted that there exists provision in Para 1 (D) of Circular [notification] 12293 Bihar Government’s Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances to employ dependent son or daughter of employee after two years of employee’s disappearance on the compassionate ground. Dr Paswan, who has recently been transferred here, is shocked by the insensitivity of the previous administration. He writes to V-C to employ a family member of Basant Prasand on the compassionate ground.

Sunaina comes from an OBC community. Like many underprivileged people in Bihar, Sunaina’s family was landless before her husband got a government job.

“I used to work as a maid on the monthly salary of Rs. 20 with my mother-in-law. We used to live in a rented room in Raj Guru Chowk area of the town [Bettiah]. He [Basant] was a mason,” she continues, “My father, who was a peon, helped him get a job in the college. Our condition was improving and suddenly we were deserted.”

Sunaina has also not received ex gratia compensation from Election Commission of India which is a minimum of Rs. 15 Lacs in the case of death of polling personnel. She says, “Some say that I will be provided with the government job on the compassionate ground only if I pay a bribe of Rs. 6 Lac. This is only possible if we sell this house, my husband’s last vestige. Even after that, what is the guarantee?” Sunaina lives in the house built by her husband.

The worsening financial condition has pushed the family on the edge of recidivism; she has no option except to sell the house if no help from the government arrives.

Ujjawal Krishnam is an independent journalist and researcher. He covers social inequality and rights.


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