Environmentalist Saalumarada Thimmakka is a celebrity in her own right, and is unlike any other. She has won scores of awards, BBC included her in its global list of 100 most influential woman and her inspirational life story has made it into school textbooks. The Karnataka government has named several of its schemes after her.
But the same government expects her to live on the `500-a-month pension it pays her and wants the 105-year-old to bear her medical expenses. Recently, when she was admitted to a private hospital in Bengaluru, the story of how she had to take loans and pledge her medals to pay for the treatment came out. According to her foster son Umesh, she has not received a single paisa from the government despite its frequent announcements of providing money and land.
Two years back, a minister had promised `1 crore and 10 acres of land. The same minister, a year later, doubled the financial assistance, but the promises have remained on paper. While the news of her plight triggered an outpouring of anger on social media and a flood of offers of assistance from people, the government and ministers remained as impassive as ever. No one bothered even to pay her a visit. Thimmakka, who was discharged from the hospital on Thursday, has demanded an apology from the government for its claim of footing her medical bills. Her anguish is understandable.
Thimmakka was born in poverty and had no formal education. It was her tree-planting zeal that brought her acclaim, and earned her the moniker ‘Saalumarada’, which means ‘row of trees’ in Kannada. The immensely popular green crusader has won about 50 national and state awards and has been felicitated across the globe for planting and nurturing thousands of trees. She still lives in poverty, but that’s not what pains her or her admirers. It’s the way the political class has used her and then abandoned her. They fully deserve the brickbats coming their way. For, this is no way to treat an icon.