RTI Fighters

Any good deed and law will face bad politicking. The Right to Information (RTI) act is not an exception. The recent killing of Amit Jethwa in Gujarat is one among the many youngsters who lost their spirit and life to RTI killers. The Government which brought the law has the prime duty to protect its torchbearers.

Antara Dev Sen writes in The Deccan Chronicle

Earlier this week, Amit Jethwa was shot dead in front of the Gujarat high court. He was in his thirties, a caring, law-abiding citizen, committed to the environment, humanity and animal life. And like most dedicated souls, he believed that he could stem the rot in the system and make a difference by diligently using democratic tools of empowerment. He relied heavily on the Right to Information (RTI) Act to plug the holes in the system. Till the holes got him.

Amit Jethwa was fighting against illegal mining in the Gir forests, which hosts the world’s last Asiatic lions.

But he was up against the mining mafia, the forest department and politicians involved in the racket. Not an easy fight for a lone ranger. Besides, he had made enemies by campaigning against corruption. He had even got a Lokayukta placed in Gujarat.

But he was losing faith in civil society. Barely a week before he was gunned down he had told a reporter about his disenchantment. “I know how risky it is for me and my family to wage a war against the mining mafia”, he lamented. “Without the support of people nothing is possible.”

Which is precisely where the power of the RTI lies. In the hands of the masses, it is a potent tool to chisel democracy with. But in the hands of a lone passionate soul, it may be a dangerous weapon ready to explode in your face.

Information is power only when you are allowed to use it. It works wonders in a free society, where people have justiciable democratic rights, where governance has not failed as miserably as in our country.

The right to information can be a human right only where there has been a certain level of development, where certain democratic freedoms are protected. If the state cannot protect your right to life, it’s best not to exercise your right to information too much.

Are we shocked that Amit Jethwa was killed in public, in broad daylight, in front of the highest seat of justice in the state? Yes. But should we be? The state is Gujarat, where human rights are routinely violated, where you could be killed for convenience. Even as this activist was being gunned down, the Chief Minister, Mr Narendra Modi’s close aide, Mr Amit Shah, the junior home minister accused in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case, was audaciously dodging the CBI (Central Bureau of Investigation). This is also the state where thousands were killed in the name of religion, and investigations into the murders so mired in corruption that the Supreme Court had to shift some cases out to other states for a fair trial.

So maybe we should not be shocked that Amit Jethwa, an activist who fought powerful people for the right and the good, was killed so brazenly in front of the Gujarat High Court. We should be shocked at our own impotence. At the way certain states can function as barely veiled banana republics, denying democratic rights and freedoms to Indian citizens.

But Gujarat, drowning as it is in the depths of deprivation, is not the only state to deny democratic rights and freedoms to citizens. Killers with political clout routinely go free everywhere in India. And RTI activists have been killed, attacked, and hounded around the country ever since the national RTI Act was passed in 2005.

Let’s look at some of the cases this year. In January 2010, Satish Shetty, 39, was hacked to death in Maharashtra. The activist had been battling land scams and government corruption, had received death threats and asked for police protection — which he didn’t get — and was killed while taking his morning walk.

In February, also in Maharashtra, RTI activist Arun Sawant was shot dead near the Badlapur Municipal Office in Thane for fighting administrative corruption. Meanwhile in Bihar, RTI activist Shashidhar Mishra was gunned down in front of his home in Begusarai. A tireless crusader against corruption in welfare schemes and the local government, he was called “Khabri Lal” for his dedication to information. Meanwhile in Gujarat, Vishram Laxman Dodiya, who had filed an RTI petition regarding illegal electricity connections by Torrent Power, was murdered.

In April, RTI activist Vitthal Gite, 39, was killed in Maharashtra for exposing village education scams. And in Andhra Pradesh, Sola Ranga Rao, 30, was murdered in front of his home for exposing corruption in the funding of the village drainage system.

In May, Dattatray Patil, 47, was murdered in Kolhapur, Maharashtra. A close associate of activist and RTI guru Anna Hazare, his fight against corruption had got some of the area’s top policemen removed and action initiated against local municipal corporators.

Besides murder, there are failed murder attempts, violent threats and fake police cases. Take Maharashtra.

In March, environmentalists Sumaira Abdulali and Naseer Jalal were ruthlessly attacked by a politically backed sand mafia in Raigad, and survived only because journalists accompanying them used their influence and mobile phones. None of the accused were arrested. In April, Abhay Patil, advocate and RTI activist, had a mob clamouring for blood at his door.

Apparently, they wanted him to withdraw all complaints of corruption against MLA Dilip Wagh. When his wife, a police constable, called the cops for help, they asked her to come to the police station and lodge a complaint. Later, she faced fake charges and was suspended, allegedly at the behest of home minister R.R. Patil.

Then in July, Ashok Kumar Shinde was attacked for his RTI and Public Interest Litigation (PIL) against a corruption racket in the Public Works Department linked to the Bombay high court.

Worse than physical assault is abusing the law to attack activists. Take the case of E. Rati Rao, senior scientist, activist and journalist, in Karnataka. In March she was charged with sedition and attempting to cause mutiny or communal discord for protesting against “encounters” and atrocities on dalits, tribals, Muslims and other minorities.

Meanwhile, in distant Orissa, another activist-journalist, Dandapani Mohapatra, was targeted by the police, his home raided and his books and magazines confiscated without a warrant. He was labelled as a suspected Maoist.

Activists fighting for our rights cannot win without our muscle. Once an RTI activist is killed, civil society must force the police to investigate not just the murder but all that he was unearthing. Only then will we be able to stop this murderous silencing of activists.

By not protecting RTI activists, by allowing cases of harassment they file to be closed without punishing the perpetrators, the state is failing to uphold the spirit of the RTI Act. And weakening the spirit of democracy.

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Blind Drive of UPA II

The Government of the day is responsible in providing both physical, human and social securities to every citizen. The UPA Government although loud mouths about the turn around of social disparities is yet to prove its capacity in this front. Many fancy schemes sponsored by the Central Government is announced often to attract sympathies of common people. Alas! there is no positive change in many downtrodden people’s lives. It is important to create and sustain a team of committed force from the planning to implementation stage. If this crucial exercise is left to a loosely jokers with ministerial tags and cabinet perks it is bound to fail. There may be trumpeting in paper about the success of these schemes. Most of the central schemes instead of creating positive changes is bringing in negative impact. For instance the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Programme has take away the farm labour. If the take away farm labours are creating constructive assets then it is a happy news. They are wagging away time to get Rs. 80 above per day. This destroy both the private agriculture and public funds. Instead of focusing on the crucial aspects of national development the UPA government is losing balance. Before it takes the nation to the irrecoverable accident some sense should stop this blind driving of India.
Shiv Viswanathan writes in The Deccan Chronicle 16 July 2010
The other day someone asked me what I thought were the three most important ministries. The standard answers expected were defence, home and finance. Some would hyphenate foreign and defence. I must admit these are important ministries, if law and order, security are the most important goals of the state. But in a futuristic sense, as a vision for creativity, the three most important ministries are health, environment and education. These constitute the framework for the future. Today I want to focus on one of them — education.
The reason is we are being outthought. Education in India is creating a mimic man, an imitative society content with being a fourth-rate America, glad if it has Donald Duck or Spiderman on the flag. It is turning us into a third-rate global regime. We are so pleased with our success abroad, from Spelling Bees to a two-inch column in the Times, that we don’t recognise that we are being bypassed intellectually.
Competition is good in its own way but what are we competing about? Our leadership is quite happy to have reached the 19th century of ideas in a society they still treat as 14th century.
Our dynamism is misdirected because our language and theories of education are flawed. Look at how we approach education. It is in the language of productivity and numbers. The way our minister speaks we don’t know whether he is in charge of buildings or education. He sounds more like a minister for housing because building education is a totally different game. The numbers game creates a sense of targets but an obsession with it forecloses the debate on quality, plurality and content. We play the multiplication game with slogans of more IIT, more IIMs, as if we have patented a way of cloning institutions. No one takes a critical look at these institutions beyond an occasional critique of their admissions policy. The IIMs and IIT have research ratings which would embarrass a modest, even provincial, US university. In fact, we have no theory of the modern university.
Ironically, we are still children of Macaulay. His ghost overpowers the Gandhian vision. There is an irony to it because Macaulay made us middle class English speakers. It is our comparative advantage in English that powers our economy. Our model of education is still the tutorial college. More students have grown up reading K.K. Dewett and Ruddar Dutt than the management expert Prahlad and the economist Sen.
What is the tutorial college? It is the ultimate fantasy of reduction and miniaturisation. A society’s inversion of Macaulay’s perverse dream. Macaulay’s arrogance proclaimed that all of Indian civilisation is not worth a shelf of Western books. The irony was that we literally reduced Western civilisation to a shelf of dull functional books. We then bowdlerised it, simplifying it to its crudest elements. The kunji or cogbook was born. We reduced Western civilisation from a text to a textbook and religiously updated it. These books are the publisher’s ultimate fantasy and run up to 40 editions. We turned education into an instrument like a lathi or a screwdriver between the kunji and the tutorial college. The ultimate dream of the tutorial college is entry into IIT and IIT pays back by imitating its pedagogy.
If imitation is a sign of flattery, India is the ultimate mimic civilisation. Mimicry may be a form of temporary survival but it cannot be a substitute for creativity in a democratic society. One has to be more inventive.
More crucially, India can’t create a history where education mimicked the violence of colonialism. Imperialism could, with the aid of homogenising development models, museumise tribe and craft, or condemn them to assimilation. We need plural structures of knowledge and education where craft is reworked as a new kind, as a new hand-brain hyphen and our linguistic wealth, both written and oral, is sustained.
Our university is still the examination machine of the 19th century, meant for turning out clerks and bureaucrats. Our mandarins still emerge from that system and exemplify it. We are masters of the exam system but mediocres in research. We are poor at knowledge creation and it is in the domain of knowledge creation and knowledge strategies that India is losing out.
We need a gradient of knowledge systems from the primary school to the centres of advanced knowledge. We have to realise it is one chain of being, like a food chain, and violence to any part damages the whole. To a theory of integrated knowledge, we have to add a theory of knowledge itself.
We have to keep the varieties of knowledge in our society dynamic. We have to realise that the democratisation of knowledge demands that the tribal, the peasant, the hawker, the nomad be seen as strategists of survival, as men and women of knowledge. Our informal economy is a knowledge system of its own that we are loathe to appreciate. The democratisation of knowledge has to be part of the democratisation of democracy. This demands that we be a knowledge culture first before we are a knowledge economy.
The Knowledge Commission actually did not work. India has no current equivalent of the Kothari or Radhakrishnan Report. We need such an overall statement which links education to new ideas in science, ecology and culture. Europe and the USA are continually rethinking their universities. These changes don’t merely cover budgetary reform but critical changes in economy and the structure of science.
Our paradigms of education are 19th century and our policy is only a collection of add-ons. What we need is a new “Educational Report” which is as ethnographically rich as a colonial gazetteer, which connects to other critical reports like the Sengupta Report and the Sachar Report on Minorities. A theory of the knowledge economy cannot be a nation state document. It has to be simultaneously civilisational and located in community and civil society. A project that links all these into a vision of the future is a project whose time has come. The question is do our politicians have the will to create such a vision and implement it, or is obsolescence and illiteracy the strategy of our populism-seeking elite?

he Government of the day is responsible in providing both physical, human and social securities to every citizen. The UPA Government although loud mouths about the turn around of social disparities is yet to prove its capacity in this front. Many fancy schemes sponsored by the Central Government is announced often to attract sympathies of common people. Alas! there is no positive change in many downtrodden people’s lives. It is important to create and sustain a team of committed force from the planning to implementation stage. If this crucial exercise is left to a loosely jokers with ministerial tags and cabinet perks it is bound to fail. There may be trumpeting in paper about the success of these schemes. Most of the central schemes instead of creating positive changes is bringing in negative impact. For instance the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Programme has take away the farm labour. If the take away farm labours are creating constructive assets then it is a happy news. They are wagging away time to get Rs. 80 above per day. This destroy both the private agriculture and public funds. Instead of focusing on the crucial aspects of national development the UPA government is losing balance. Before it takes the nation to the irrecoverable accident some sense should stop this blind driving of India.
Shiv Viswanathan writes in The Deccan Chronicle 16 July 2010
The other day someone asked me what I thought were the three most important ministries. The standard answers expected were defence, home and finance. Some would hyphenate foreign and defence. I must admit these are important ministries, if law and order, security are the most important goals of the state. But in a futuristic sense, as a vision for creativity, the three most important ministries are health, environment and education. These constitute the framework for the future. Today I want to focus on one of them — education.
The reason is we are being outthought. Education in India is creating a mimic man, an imitative society content with being a fourth-rate America, glad if it has Donald Duck or Spiderman on the flag. It is turning us into a third-rate global regime. We are so pleased with our success abroad, from Spelling Bees to a two-inch column in the Times, that we don’t recognise that we are being bypassed intellectually.Competition is good in its own way but what are we competing about? Our leadership is quite happy to have reached the 19th century of ideas in a society they still treat as 14th century.
Our dynamism is misdirected because our language and theories of education are flawed. Look at how we approach education. It is in the language of productivity and numbers. The way our minister speaks we don’t know whether he is in charge of buildings or education. He sounds more like a minister for housing because building education is a totally different game. The numbers game creates a sense of targets but an obsession with it forecloses the debate on quality, plurality and content. We play the multiplication game with slogans of more IIT, more IIMs, as if we have patented a way of cloning institutions. No one takes a critical look at these institutions beyond an occasional critique of their admissions policy. The IIMs and IIT have research ratings which would embarrass a modest, even provincial, US university. In fact, we have no theory of the modern university.
Ironically, we are still children of Macaulay. His ghost overpowers the Gandhian vision. There is an irony to it because Macaulay made us middle class English speakers. It is our comparative advantage in English that powers our economy. Our model of education is still the tutorial college. More students have grown up reading K.K. Dewett and Ruddar Dutt than the management expert Prahlad and the economist Sen.What is the tutorial college? It is the ultimate fantasy of reduction and miniaturisation. A society’s inversion of Macaulay’s perverse dream. Macaulay’s arrogance proclaimed that all of Indian civilisation is not worth a shelf of Western books. The irony was that we literally reduced Western civilisation to a shelf of dull functional books. We then bowdlerised it, simplifying it to its crudest elements. The kunji or cogbook was born. We reduced Western civilisation from a text to a textbook and religiously updated it. These books are the publisher’s ultimate fantasy and run up to 40 editions. We turned education into an instrument like a lathi or a screwdriver between the kunji and the tutorial college. The ultimate dream of the tutorial college is entry into IIT and IIT pays back by imitating its pedagogy.
If imitation is a sign of flattery, India is the ultimate mimic civilisation. Mimicry may be a form of temporary survival but it cannot be a substitute for creativity in a democratic society. One has to be more inventive.
More crucially, India can’t create a history where education mimicked the violence of colonialism. Imperialism could, with the aid of homogenising development models, museumise tribe and craft, or condemn them to assimilation. We need plural structures of knowledge and education where craft is reworked as a new kind, as a new hand-brain hyphen and our linguistic wealth, both written and oral, is sustained.Our university is still the examination machine of the 19th century, meant for turning out clerks and bureaucrats. Our mandarins still emerge from that system and exemplify it. We are masters of the exam system but mediocres in research. We are poor at knowledge creation and it is in the domain of knowledge creation and knowledge strategies that India is losing out.
We need a gradient of knowledge systems from the primary school to the centres of advanced knowledge. We have to realise it is one chain of being, like a food chain, and violence to any part damages the whole. To a theory of integrated knowledge, we have to add a theory of knowledge itself.
We have to keep the varieties of knowledge in our society dynamic. We have to realise that the democratisation of knowledge demands that the tribal, the peasant, the hawker, the nomad be seen as strategists of survival, as men and women of knowledge. Our informal economy is a knowledge system of its own that we are loathe to appreciate. The democratisation of knowledge has to be part of the democratisation of democracy. This demands that we be a knowledge culture first before we are a knowledge economy.
The Knowledge Commission actually did not work. India has no current equivalent of the Kothari or Radhakrishnan Report. We need such an overall statement which links education to new ideas in science, ecology and culture. Europe and the USA are continually rethinking their universities. These changes don’t merely cover budgetary reform but critical changes in economy and the structure of science.
Our paradigms of education are 19th century and our policy is only a collection of add-ons. What we need is a new “Educational Report” which is as ethnographically rich as a colonial gazetteer, which connects to other critical reports like the Sengupta Report and the Sachar Report on Minorities. A theory of the knowledge economy cannot be a nation state document. It has to be simultaneously civilisational and located in community and civil society. A project that links all these into a vision of the future is a project whose time has come. The question is do our politicians have the will to create such a vision and implement it, or is obsolescence and illiteracy the strategy of our populism-seeking elite?