Since the beginning of economic reforms in 1991, people have been demanding that the government remove the obstacles in politics that have led to corruption and inefficiency in the political system. An important landmark was the Right to Information Act, which was passed six years ago. Several hundreds of thousands of Indians have filed complaints against corrupt officials demanding information, and for the most part, they have received it.
However, there have been instances of people being murdered or attacked and tortured because they have filed complaints under the Act. For example, on August 16, 2011, Shehla Masood, a business woman from Bhopal, was shot to death by an assailant contracted by the government. After being the lowest bidder for a government contract and not having received the tender, Masood filed numerous complaints to the authorities. Yet, instead of receiving justice Masood ended up being murdered in cold blood. Repercussions like those Masood faced, take place because members of government are increasingly passing the information in the complaints that individuals file on to criminals. These criminals then attack or murder the citizens trying to use RTI.
It appears that the government is not willing to forgo its power over the populace. These instances are proof of government intimidation, and cannot be tolerated. The Right to Information is crucial. It has, in fact, been tremendously successful, and has led to people in government being ousted or arrested because of their involvement in illegal activity. For now, the number of violent repercussions on people using the RTI is low. Since the beginning of 2010, approximately 12 individuals have been killed because they have filed complaints under the act, and 40 more have been attacked. According to the Asian Centre for Human Rights, most of those who were attacked live in remote rural or tribal areas, which are far less transparent. Occasionally, officials are also threatened. A policeman named Babbu Singh was killed after he filed a RTI petition requesting information about public spending in his village. It is important to recognize that these terrible events have taken place because of the success of the Act. People have been emboldened, and have been demanding accountability more vigorously, putting more pressure on guilty officials.
Generally, complaints of murders and violence as a result of filing petitions under the RTI have gone largely unacknowledged. The victims have not gotten the justice that they deserve.
However, things appear to be changing for the better. Masood’s murder may just be the straw to break the camel’s back. The Asian Centre for Human Rights is pushing hard to violence due to RTI complaints under their purview. This would lead to the incidents being filed in a special category that would be quickly investigated, and dealt with.
The Right to Information is something that we as Indians cannot afford to lose. In our corrupt system, the Act allows us to get answers. The violence taking place against petitioners is intolerable, and we must not lose sight of the fact that additional transparency is making the Government nervous. We must keep fighting for it, and to keep our right to information. Knowing is something you have a right to, so elect officials willing to share information and hold themselves accountable.
Know Your Vote.
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