For 45 years, this Maharashtra war widow awaits possession of ‘promised land’

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This is one war widow of Ahmednagar cast in the mould of her husband Kondaji Lakshman Malunjkar, who was killed in the 1965 India-Pakistan war. Over five decades after she was widowed, Lahanbai Malunjkar is now waging a different battle with the local and state authorities to get possession of a 10-acre plot awarded to her as part of the compensation following the death of 23-year-old Kondaji on the war front. I am already 71. That land is my right, but I am too old and unable to take possession. I appeal to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis to help me before it is too late, Lahanbai told IANS at her home in Rumbhodi village. She said her simple life as a teenager was shattered when she was informed on October 2, 1965, that her young husband Kondaji, a soldier with the Maratha Light Infantry, had died in action in Jammu Kashmir. My only son, 18-month-old Deepak was in my lap then. There were no other close male relatives on both sides in our families. I started all over as a widowed, teenager mother, and encountered huge difficulties, but somehow I managed, recalls Lahanbai. In 1972, a ray of hope appeared: Defence authorities allotted her 10 acres of agricultural land in Aurangpur village, around 6 km from Rumbhodi. My grandmothers travails just began, says Sachin Malunjkar, Lahanbais grandson. The people of Aurangpur would not allow us in. It meant that our land remained only on paper. We had no means to take physical possession of it, says Sachin Malunjkar. After waging a four-year war of nerves with the villagers, the family retreated by seeking another plot of land – measuring 2.5 acre – which the district administration allotted to Lahanbai. But that land was was more than 25 km away, most of it rocky and unfit for cultivation. So Lahanbai rejected it and finally surrendered it after 30 years in 2007, according to Sachin Malunjkar. Lahanbais son Dipak became adult, married and they have two sons, Sachin and Sagar. The joint family continued to eke out a modest living by farming on their own nine-acre ancestral plot in Rumbhodi, supported by Lahanbais war-widow pension which started with Rs 27.50 in 1965 and is now around Rs 25,000 per month. Ahmednagar Resident Deputy Collector Prashant Patil says that the plot in question belongs to the woman. It has not been taken away, but she will have to take possession and start cultivation there, he said. If there are any legal issues, we are ever ready to help her, she can approach the local revenue official (tehsildar) for guidance, Patil told IANS. Local Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) legislator Vaibhavrao Pichad has promised to raise the issue in the Maharashtra Assembly and through the NCP, even in Parliament. Aurangpur villagers claim they are opposed to the land allotment in their village since they are facing a shortage of grazing land for their cattle. Possession of land by Lahanbai could result in some farmers losing their land, they say. Besides, it is a forest land and cannot be allotted for farming, said a villager. Sachin pointed out that they had even approached former Maharashtra minister Babanrao Pachpute, tehsil officials, the collectorate and other officials, but nothing has happened in the last 46 years. My efforts with the tehsil office continue. Now they have asked us to measure and demarcate the plot, which we hope to complete soon, said Sachin. Unaffected by her 45-year experience, Lahanbai is grooming her younger grandson Sagar to either the join the armed forces or the police.