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July 13, 2020

Reunion with lawyer schoolmate renews blind teacher’s struggle for pension 39 years overdue

Haji Ismail Memon and Qamar Din Samejo. Photo: The News

Qamar Din Samejo, a primary schoolteacher in the small coastal town of Buhar, near Thatta, went to bed one night to wake up the following morning to a darkness that, he soon found out, was to never end. He lost his eyesight overnight, and his job five years later.

It was 1976, and he had just turned 28, when he went blind. Never in his scariest nightmares had he ever thought that something like this could happen to him.

His ultimate goal in life was to become a great, learned person just like his grandfather, who had passed away before his birth but had come to him in a dream. Samejo was married and at that time had five children. After the biggest achievement of his life — his job as a teacher — was snatched away from him, his entire household was hoping to depend on his pension and gratuity from the government, but he never received anything.

‘Innocent offence’

During his short but passionate service, he was inspired by Allama II Kazi, the father of higher modern education in Sindh. Samejo emphasised on each of his students at the school, where he himself had studied as a boy, to live an upright life, to make honesty, discipline and respect an integral part of it.

He read them stories about the virtues of uprightness and labour, so they would become the better part of society, all the while unaware that sticking to one’s principles had a painful cost.

But the years that followed have forced him to learn that his lessons were practically impractical, that living his life according to them has resulted in a lot of distress, that his seemingly endless struggle to get his pension is all thanks to not going against his principles to bribe the officials concerned.

“I am weeping not only by tears but by heart as well to state that I am being penalized for my innocent offence of not greasing the palms of [education officials],” he wrote to the chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) 39 years after he lost his job.

Breaking of a man

Born a year after Pakistan came into being, Samejo started teaching at a primary school in his village at the age of 23. Five years after he went blind, he was declared incapacitated on June 7, 1981. He was also denied post-retirement funds on account of allegedly not completing 10 years of service.

He said that since he had refused to bribe his supervising officials to approve the start of his pension, a false entry was made in his service book stating that he had availed leave without pay “for 264 days” from September 15, 1979 to June 6, 1981.

“Firstly, I never applied for such a leave. Secondly, lie has no legs to stand upon, as the duration between these two dates makes 631 days, not 264 days,” he said. “Almighty God knows better whether these officers are still alive or have since paid their debt to nature.”

Nevertheless, Section 474-B(aa) of the Civil Service Regulations clearly states that if a civil servant is unable to work and retires on account of invalidation due to illness, accident, earthquake or terrorism, they will get complete pension benefits, and the condition of ten-year service will not apply in their case.

Moreover, the Civil Services Pension Rules and the superior courts’ judgements in the cases 2009 SCMR 769, 2010 SCMR 522 and PLJ 1997 TrC (Services 298) condone deficiencies of up to a year in claims as well as allow a compassionate allowance for a civil servant dismissed from service on account of a felony.

To make matters worse, Samejo’s application for grant of monthly subsistence allowance from the Sindh Government Servants Benevolent Fund, to which he had regularly contributed during his service, was rejected by the Divisional Benevolent Fund Board of Hyderabad in 1995 on the pretext that the matter was time-barred.

Finally broken, the educator lost all hope and confined himself to his home. He stopped seeing people and would spend all day on the charpoy in the courtyard of his house. Sometime later, his son got a job as a peon in an office and moved to Jati.

Bittersweet reunion

One Sunday this April, Haji Ismail Memon was visiting the graves of his parents and wife at a cemetery in Jati city. There he bumped into Samejo’s son.

Samejo, who belongs to a teachers family, hails from Buhar, a small village an hour and a half’s drive away from Jati, from where hails Memon, whose father owned a grocery store there.

The school in Buhar covered only primary level. For secondary education the students from this tehsil had to go to Sujawal, Hyderabad or Karachi. After his primary education, Samejo enrolled at a middle school in Jati. There he met Memon, a year his senior, and they became friends.

They had met last in 2000, when Memon had just started practising law after retiring from the Pakistan Reinsurance Company Limited. It was he who had written to the Hyderabad commissioner on Samejo’s behalf for his subsistence allowance.

“But I hadn’t checked up on Samejo in all those years since we met last,” said Memon. “My memory and my body have slowed down because of my age. It’s a challenge to keep track of everything.”

After Memon’s chance encounter with Samejo’s son, the lawyer immediately paid his friend a visit for the first time in two decades. The meeting turned out to be a bittersweet experience. “Deep down, I was remorseful that I had forgotten my friend,” lamented Memon.

Renewed struggle

A retired civil servant-cum-lawyer, Memon became Samejo’s attorney and wrote on his behalf to CJP Justice Gulzar Ahmed in May to take notice of the system’s cruelty and the bureaucracy’s lack of empathy.

“I have been mercilessly and inhumanly thrown in the whirlpool of miseries and have not been paid pension, GP Fund and other post-retirement benefits/dues,” said Samejo in the letter, a copy of which was also sent to the chief justice of the Sindh High Court in June.

Memon is the same lawyer who had filed a petition to the then CJP Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry over the discovery of 15-day-old decomposing bodies of 70-year-old Prof Ghazi Khan Jakhrani and his 65-year-old wife at their house in Malir in late 2003.

The couple had starved to death because Jakhrani had not been paid his pension since his retirement three years earlier. Justice Chaudhry took action over the petition, and an inquiry held some government officials responsible, but none of them was punished.

Faith in the Almighty

Memon himself is a pensioner and has been engaged in a legal battle for getting medical facilities for himself as well as his 34-year-old mentally challenged son.

Due to their old age, the two friends have become weak, and since they live in separate towns, they depend on their children for travelling. They are yet to get a response to their letters, but they have not lost hope. They still believe justice will prevail.

Memon said Samejo was employed for 10 years and five days, but the department does not acknowledge it. His case overlaps the condition of 10 years because he suffered this trauma on the job.

The lawyer said Samejo’s last drawn salary was Rs413 according to the pay scale of PST BPS-6. At that time the pension would have come around Rs200, but Memon does not know what it would amount to now.

The educator, who now has nine children, has not lost faith in the Almighty. Justice eludes him, but he continues to struggle for what he is owed and hopes he will get it one day. “Allah will make it better!”