An Ongoing Investigation
 
by Sabrang Trust and Citizens for Justice and Peace, Mumbai

 

In a genuinely participative democracy, adult citizens should have access to information on policy and budget that affect especially a citizen’s Right to Equality and Non-Discrimination, fundamental rights guaranteed in our Constitution.

Through this process of accessing information, citizens can then participate more directly in the administration and governance of society. Any democratic society that has had to adopt a representative parliamentary system, combined with principles of the de-centralised exercise of power, needs to put systems in place that go beyond simple electoral democracy. While elections and the representatives that this exercise of the fundamental right to franchise throws up the majority people’s choice of candidates who represent them in legislatures and Parliament, the nitrty gritty of everyday governance is controlled by a vast and sprawling bureaucracy. Termed the “steel frame of Indian democracy” by founding fathers of the Indian republic, decades of non transparent functioning combined with a culture of impunity have rendered policies and decisions made by those in power, out of the knowledge of each citizen.

Panchayati Raj, the Consumer Protection Act and especially the Right to Information Act of 2005 have attempted to change the accountability patterns substantially. While each Indian, rich or poor, woman or man, regardless of the caste, community, tribe or gender she belongs to is yet to see the fair and equitable right to life and livelihood, the existence of the RTI Act since 2005 has certainly made key aspects of governance more transparent.

The RTI law of 2005 has enabled any citizen to question decisions and policies and their implementation by different wings of government. After a prolonged grassroots level agitation by civil rights activists, the central government enacted the Right to Information Act in the year 2005 and the Government of Maharashtra state also passed the law in the same year. As a result, all the information relating to administration and governance, except classified and confidential-sensitive information relating to national security is now available to any citizen of our country.

Many states in the country, like Chhatisgarh and Gujarat have tried to conceal basic decisions related to crime through a circular of their respective Home Departments. Although there is large scale ignorance about the law and some instances of misuse by unscrupulous elements, the law has enabled information flow from a hitherto tightlipped executive and bureaucracy becoming a powerful instrument for individual citizens and social and civil rights activists to access information and thereby, through exposure and agitation, ensure greater accountability and transparency in decision making.

Sabrang Trust, with its extensive human rights documentation and work in peace-building and its flagship programme of KHOJ, a secular education project as also the sister organization, Citizens for Justice and Peace dedicated to protecting civil and human rights, have been together using various strategems to combat the scourge of communalism (the politics of hate and division), safeguard the rights of minorities and scheduled castes and tribes, especially women. We have been active in the field for close to twenty years.

Our committed team of activists and field staff have worked hard with the founders of the organization, to use the Right to Information Act, 2005 to access information related to communal violence, education, diversity principles in government employment –especially jobs for teachers and policemen. Our vision and worldview has guided this effort begun systematically since 2007. As an outcome of this sustained effort, many in our team have now become well versed with using this law.

Disinformation, prejudice and myth is often used and spread by communal forces, bent on dividing populations on the basis of creed and faith to deepen the divide. Often honestly asked questions and the answers that they elicit can and do bring answers that a) either puncture the stereotype or b) enable pro active agitation and mobilisation for citizen’s rights; c) most critically such data can effectively be used to ensure fair and impartial governance.

Since 2007, our dedicated cell of RTI activists has collected, collated and analysed information pertaining to the violation of human rights, civil rights, injustices to minorities, implementation of various schemes for the upliftment and welfare of weaker sections. Information sought has also pertained to equal and fair access to education in state schools (school mapping data, ratio of drop outs, teacher student ratios), edible mid-day meals for children and other facilities. We have questioned local authorities on budgetary allocations for quality education, health schemes for children attending Zilla Parishad and municipal schools. The information so collected is used for activities aimed at ensuring effective implementation of the policies declared by corporations and governments but often not implemented effectively.

Our efforts have so far ensured that an Urdu and Marathi medium school has been opened in Mumbra, north of Mumbai. Details of government schemes for preschool children and women’s welfare have also been accessed by us. Women and Child Welfare budgets in states like Maharashtra announce the establishment of Bal Gruhs and Anganwadis crucial for quality pre-schooling, but absence of adequate information and effective monitoring often renders these allocations meaningless.

We have also collected and collated information related to violations of human and civil rights, communal violence atrocities on scheduled castes, tribes women and minorities, communalcrimes and maintenance of jails, police atrocities such as custodial deaths and encounters.  Systematic information sought by us on the establishment and setting up of the State Human Rights Commissions has resulted in valuable data on the numbers of complaints filed and their progress.

Details of FIRs and complaints lodged related to communal violence in different states have thrown up interesting data that we present before you on this unique website. Apart from brief analysis, statewide and subject wise that will be made available, we intend to share the actual data (scanned PDF files) to enable free access to this information that has been collated. We shall also present brief district-wise analyses.

Our experience of over four years has thrown some interesting comparative features. For example, we have observed that the implementation of Right to Information Act, 2005 has been most unsatisfactory in states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand. It has also been observed from a perusal of the FIRs filed, that most of the in Uttar Pradesh instances of communal violence were the result of direct or indirect provocation/ active involvement of rightwing forces with a majoritarian bias. Besides, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Jharkhand have not responded adequately to our requests of for providing information under the R.T.I. Act. The usual practice is to circumvent the query, provide ambiguous and / or misleading information, and delay in answering the questions put or maintain a silence on the availability of the copies of the documents requested for in support of the questions that have been put. etc. This is an unfortunate observation we need to make. Andhra Pradesh is also another state that has tried to delay sharing of information using the existence of a circular of the central government. Data collected and collated by us on the diversity profile in police appointments was used as a sound advocacy tool with the Maharashtra government.

In Maharashtra there appears a greater awareness about the act though anomalies exist. In Gujarat too we have accessed detailed information related to the 2002 violence while crime statistics are being denied again using the existence of a Home department circular that is now being challenged.

Our ongoing experience with this investigation has reinforced the experience of RTI activists countrywide that access to information makes the government more accountable. Sabrang has used its collective experience of over two decades to use the RTI to access information on the diversity question, rights to minorities, schedules castes, scheduled tribes and women and girls.

We invite you to use this website that has been the result of painstaking work. Value additions to the data in terms of references to laws and notifications, national and international – on various aspects of access to human rights will be continually added to enable yours to be an enriching experience. It is only when data collected by many of us involved in the collective struggle against impunity and transparency and accountability in governance, is shared in the public domain, that this flow of information will lead to energetic advocacy and action.

We look forward to your feedback to our efforts.


Sabrang Trust and Citizens for Justice and Peace India 2011 All rights reserved.