In Kalpana Jagdale's life, pension schemes, ration cards — and a dedication to the service of others

For the past 23 years, Kalpana Jagdale has been helping people to avail government schemes. When persuasion and follow-ups fail, she resorts to non-violent protest. She has also started two self-help groups with a few women in Maharashtra's Shirol village

Sanket Jain October 29, 2019 09:03:23 IST
In Kalpana Jagdale's life, pension schemes, ration cards — and a dedication to the service of others
  • For the past 26 years, Kalpana Jagdale has been helping people to avail government schemes

  • When persuasion and follow-ups fail, she resorts to non-violent protest

  • She has also started two self-help groups with a few women in the Shirol village of Maharashtra

This story is part of a series on the everyday heroes of rural Maharashtra.

Kalpana Jagdale's pedagogy of hope is defined by the words, 'Don’t worry'. “This is our struggle. We will fight, no matter what it takes,” she says while addressing a gathering of women in her house. For the past 26 years, Kalpana has been helping people to avail government schemes. She helps beneficiaries to enroll for the Sanjay Gandhi Niradhar Pension Scheme, Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme, and others. The 52-year-old also helps people to get their ration cards and other official documents required for these schemes.

She doesn’t charge a specific fee for her work. “I just ask people to pay for the paperwork.” Overwhelmed by the fact that they will now receive pension, people give her a month or two’s amount as a token of thanks.

One of the reasons she decided to take up this task was the severe inhumanity and apathy with which numerous officials dealt with people. “They don’t even allow common people to enter the government offices. A lot of times, these officials have thrown away the documents of people who asked them about schemes,” she elaborates. Thus far, Kalpana has helped more than 1200 people to enroll in the Sanjay Gandhi Niradhar pension scheme, and her work has benefited people across Arjunwad, Shirol, Udagaon, Kurundawad, Lat, Akivat, Ghalwad, and Kutwad, among other villages.

In Kalpana Jagdales life pension schemes ration cards  and a dedication to the service of others

I struggled and learned. Never be ashamed of working hard, says 53-year-old Kalpana Jagdale. All photographs by the author

Overcoming trying circumstances

A resident of the Shirol village and taluka in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur district, Kalpana draws hope and inspiration from her own personal struggles.

It was the early 90s. Dadaso Jagdale, her husband — a son of the ‘royal’ Jagdale family — had ruined himself. “He was an alcoholic and gambler. He lost 40 acres of land, and money.” Kalpana is his second wife.

Amid the ensuing havoc, Dadaso spoke his heart out to a poor farmer Narayan Gaikwad from the nearby Jambhali village. “Gaikwad, we’ve lost everything now. We are all going to commit suicide,” Gaikwad recounts. Instantly, Gaikwad replied, “Sarkar, I will turn Kalpana into a social worker. Just don’t commit suicide.” “Nothing will change, Gaikwad. Aamhi dabryat aalo (We’ve hit rock bottom),” Jagdale had lost hope by then. Gaikwad asked him to wait for all of two months. But misery had not changed Dadaso’s arrogance. “Can you promise me that things will change?” he asked. “Yes, they will,” Gaikwad assured him.

He then began teaching Kalpana the basics of reading government schemes. This was a means for her to not just challenge her own fate, but also to give several thousands a reason to stop giving up. He also taught her the skills needed to deal with officials, paperwork, and understanding development schemes.

In Kalpana Jagdales life pension schemes ration cards  and a dedication to the service of others

The passbooks of the beneficiaries of the Sanjay Gandhi Pension scheme, who were helped by Kalpana. They waited for years, and she was able to get their pensions cleared within three months

Rising by uplifting others

“Earlier, the officials used to ignore me. I would always stay patient during such times,” she recounts, “A lot of people don’t understand that fighting is not always the right way to deal with things.” When officials get angry at her, she politely tells them to at least give her some information. She follows this method repeatedly, and eventually, the officials do take up her case. When this idea fails, she resorts to non-violent protest. So far, she has organised around 15 protests in the villages of Shirol taluka. “When hundreds and thousands of people protest, the officials clear the work,” she says with a smile.

In her meetings with the older women, Kalpana has encountered several cases where the sons don’t give their mothers a single rupee. “How will an old woman survive then?” she asks, “This becomes one of the reasons why people want a pension. Though it is a small amount, it represents hope — that someone still cares,” she explains.

She says the biggest hurdle is the lack of intent on the government's part. “Officials don’t even want to give relevant information. How will someone know of the schemes then?” she asks. From her experience she has found that several of the affected people don’t even know if any schemes exist for them. They become aware of Kalpana’s work through other people who have benefited from her service.

In Kalpana Jagdales life pension schemes ration cards  and a dedication to the service of others

Everyday, several people visit Kalpana and discuss their problems. This has been a routine for 26 years now

Following up with governmental departments is one of the biggest challenges, and a tedious process. “That’s the reason no one wants to do this job,” Kalpana explains, “A few people tried, but they gave up a few months later.” Follow-ups entail several rounds of the Talati office, Tahsildar office, Panchayat Samiti, government hospitals, and Gram Panchayat. Previously, when Kalpana didn’t own a vehicle, she would walk several kilometres and sometimes take the bus.

She has never feared officials. “I know that if anything happens, I can contact Narayan Gaikwad,” she says proudly.

From dependence to independence

Kalpana breaks into a laugh when I ask about her financial struggles. “Ask me what I haven't done to make ends meet,” she says. She has milked animals, sold bedsheets and fertilisers, prepared food for children in anganwadis, and provided tiffin services. “Previously, I used to make food for the children of 36 anganwadis (close to 1000 children). Three of us would do this work,” she narrates. With the pension work, she has now reduced the cooking task to six anganwadis.

“One should keep working. Someday, things will start to change and everything will get better thereon,” she says. She has also started two self-help groups with a few women in the Shirol village; they are called the Kalpanik Mahila Bachat Gat and Anandi Mahila Bachat Gat. Through her endeavours, she inspires women to follow their dreams and start their own business or help others.

In Kalpana Jagdales life pension schemes ration cards  and a dedication to the service of others

An old photograph of one of the non-violent protests Kalpana staged against the government officials

In Kalpana Jagdales life pension schemes ration cards  and a dedication to the service of others

Kalpana addresses women at an event of a self-help group in Shirol

In 2013, she had set up a Diwali snacks stall in Kolhapur city with assistance from the self-help group. She managed to earn Rs 3 lakh. “We should never shy away from working. It can be any sort of work. I never say no to good work,” she says proudly.

Circumstances got tougher after her husband went through losses — and after his death in 2007. “After my husband lost all the money and property, relatives stopped visiting our house.” During this time, her friends would offer meals and even lend a few rupees. Her husband never worked, she confesses.

A life dedicated to others

“Back in 1993, when I had begun working, people would get Rs 100 per month under the Sanjay Gandhi pension yojana. Recently, they increased the amount to Rs 1000,” she says.

Over the course of her discussions with women, she found that development schemes alone aren’t going to help the most affected people. So Kalpana decided to take on the initiative of helping women fight their divorce cases. “Several rural women aren’t aware of the legal process, and that is why they fear fighting cases. I talk to the lawyers on their behalf and attend all the hearings to ensure they get justice,” she says. So far, she has helped to fight 25 such cases, where justice was delivered.

In Kalpana Jagdales life pension schemes ration cards  and a dedication to the service of others

Mumatajabi Mullanni speaks of red-tapism and how government officials have been asking her to visit numerous departments, which led to no help

Anjana Banne, 48, an agricultural labourer from the same village, heard of Kalpana’s work a week ago. She says, “I’ve visited several government offices in the past 25 years to obtain my widow's pension. Each time, they keep asking me to go to some other government office." She earns Rs 150 for nine hours of work everyday in other’s fields. “A lot of women told me that Kalpana can solve my problem, so I came here with all my documents,” she says, her eyes gleaming. In the last two decades, Anjana has spent more than Rs 6000 on paperwork and travel. She has also paid visits to politicians, to no avail.

Mumatajabi Mullanni, 58, who has also visited Kalpana, says, “I went to a lot of government offices, but all they say is I am not eligible for a pension. I don’t understand why. Kalpana asked a few questions and said, 'Don't worry, I'll get it done.'"

One of the biggest challenges facing Kalpana is creating the next generation of leaders who will continue her work. She recounts an incident from 2013: “In 2013, I almost died. I was suffering from pneumonia, but the doctor prescribed medicine for Swine Flu.” She went into a coma and was kept in intensive care for a month. “After a month, I told the doctor that I want to go back. He immediately rejected my request, saying that I hadn’t recovered.” Kalpana stood her ground and went home. It took three months for her to recover and get back to helping people.

Her dream now is to start an old-age home, but she senses that it will take much more work, time and money. Her own retirement is not on her mind though. “I will continue to work until I die," she asserts. Just as she utters these words, another person enters her home. This time, it's a concern about a disability pension. Kalpana begins going through the documents given to her. "Back to the routine," she says with a smile.

All photographs by Sanket Jain

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