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Mainstream, VOL LV No 27 New Delhi June 24, 2017

Resentment Growing over False Charges against Nikhil Dey and Other RTI Activists

Saturday 24 June 2017, by Bharat Dogra


Resentment is growing in Rajasthan and at the national level against some of the most senior, distinguished, selfless social activists being given a prison sentence in a 20-year-old case. The case relates to one of those struggles of Right to Information (RTI) activists in rural Rajasthan which were praised all over the world as pioneering efforts to bring trans-parency and ensure accountability in rural development.

This was a particularly difficult case for RTI activists as a sarpanch, who also doubled as a liquor contractor at that time and had been accused by several villagers of corrupt dealings, had refused to provide information despite being approached for this many a time in the proper legal way by activists and other villagers. When RTI activists persisted in their efforts, he turned violent towards them; but instead it is the activists, in fact some of the most respected activists known for their great work and integrity, who have been given a prison sentence.

The Rajasthan branch of the People’s Union of Civil Liberties has also drawn attention to this serious anomaly that the peaceful activists, who were treated violently by corrupt persons, were convicted and sentenced to four-month imprisonment.

In another statement released on behalf of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathana (MKSS) and one of the most respected social activists of world, Aruna Roy, it has been stated, “The MKSS is shocked and dismayed to receive the judgment of the Munsif Magistrate Court, Kishengarh, Ajmer, convicting senior activists Nikhil Dey, Naurti, Ramkaran, Babulal and Chotu Lal Malakar of trespass and simple hurt under sections 323 and 451 of the IPC. The judgment comes on 13th June, 2017 in an incident which took place on 6th of May, 1998.”

Drawing attention to an important aspect of this 19-year-old case, this statement points out that the case filed by the sarpanch was closed on June 30, 1998 but on July 5, 2001 the same case was revived once again. Calling this prison sentence a body blow to the efforts of citizens to fight corruption, this statement has expressed deep disappointment with the verdict. At the same time this statement has noted that the sentence has been suspended pending an appeal to be filed by the activists.

One reason why this sentence has evoked so much resentment among justice-loving people is that the convicted activists are very well known for their commitment to peaceful struggles as is evident from their RTI movement and related struggles. One of the accused, Naurati Bai, has herself served as a sarpanch and is widely regarded as a model sarpanch who achieved a lot in a short time. She is also known for her struggles on behalf of rural women workers and her work for gender justice. Nikhil Dey is one of the most highly regarded social activists of the country, widely known for his contribution to the RTI, NREGA and numerous other worthy causes. Ramkaran, one of the most gentle activists I have ever met, has been a pillar of strength for the RTI movement as well as for several other noble causes.

I have been a frequent visitor to various meetings of these and other social activists of Rajasthan who work on several issues of common interest with mutual cooperation. As this case dragged on, at some of these meetings the activists implicated could not come because of court dates. On such cases other persons attending the case, while expressing regret that these senior activists could not come, would invariably express resentment about why such noble persons had been implicated in frivolous charges as no one could believe such charges against them. It was often said that even asking such senior activists engaged in important tasks concerning the welfare of the people, particularly the weaker sections, to attend to such a court case for so many years was itself a great injustice against them.

It is very important in a democracy that those activists and citizens who take up people’s causes against corrupt persons should get justice. When even very senior and respected activists are subjected to years of harassment culminating in even more injustice, this sends a very wrong message to the people’s faith in democratic and constitutional struggles. Hence it is very much an issue of protecting democracy and democratic rights that all the activists implicated in this case should get justice and get it fast.

The author is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements and campaigns.  

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