There are no free rides in life, and none know that better than freedom fighter Sumati Samant. The 86-year-old earned the privilege of riding free of cost on trains and buses by pledging her blood, sweat and life for her nation’s freedom, decades ago. Samant even has the paperwork to prove it, in the form of a freedom fighter card, which was given to her by the state government on June 22, 1987, in recognition of her contribution to the nationalist movement.
But such laurels seem to be of little significance for the loss-making BEST undertaking and its employees. The octogenarian was humiliated on a BEST bus last week, with a conductor snatching her card, and accusing her of ‘fleecing’ the transport body. Evidently, he had no idea that a freedom fighter card allows its owner to avail of the bus services free of cost.
Since she was awarded the card 26 years ago, Samant has had access to free public transport, whether it’s on BEST buses or local and express trains. When she stepped out of her home on July 27 to head to her brother’s house, she didn’t expect things to be any different.
Samant said, “I boarded the BEST bus 521 at 8.45 am to go King’s Circle. When the conductor approached me for bus fare, I showed him my freedom fighter card. He snatched my card and started shouting at me, saying something like ‘Tumchya sarkhi loka asla dhande kartat ani BEST la nuksaan hota, (People like you show such things and because of that BEST runs in losses)’”.
She added, “All the people on the bus started looking at me like I was a thief. Another BEST bus employee who was travelling in the bus showed me his pass and said that only employees or their family members carrying BEST bus passes can travel for free. He insisted that people with freedom fighter passes can’t travel for free. I have traveled till the Konkan region using the same pass. Till date, I have never been stopped. It is shocking that the conductor, who is in his 40s, doesn’t know the rule. When I told him to take me to the BEST bus depot or Matunga police station, he promptly kept my freedom fighter card in his pocket, refusing to return it.”
Not ready to give up her card so easily, the plucky woman devised a strategy to get it back: “I asked him to show me the card for a second so I could check which one it was, and when he held it out, I snatched it back from him, since I cannot afford to lose the card. My pension depends on it. I got down at the bus stop near Gandhi Market and immediately went to Matunga police station and registered an NC against the conductor. On July 29, I went to the Wadala BEST bus depot and registered another complaint there against the arrogant conductor.”
Sumati’s son Dilip said, “I was not present at the time the incident happened. If not to a freedom fighter, the conductor should at least have spoken politely to a senior citizen. It is also shocking that BEST bus drivers don’t know about this rule.”
-- With inputs from Shashank Rao
Did you know?
As per an announcement made in September 1990, freedom fighters with valid IDs can travel for free in non-AC BEST buses and trains.
Not the first time
Another freedom fighter faced similar humiliation on July 11, while travelling on route 443 from Marol to Andheri (East). The bus was halted for 15 minutes, when he refused to pay the fare, showing his card. A bitter altercation ensued. It was only after a co-passenger agreed to pay the fare for the freedom fighter that the bus resumed its journey.
The Other Side
BEST spokesperson V Bagul said, “Freedom fighters holding a valid freedom fighter identity card issued by the Central government, the state government or the Goa government are permitted to travel in a non-AC BEST bus for free. This incident is unfortunate and an enquiry will be conducted.”