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Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Is RTI activism succeeding? Nazar ko badal ke dekho, nazaare badal jaayenge!

Dear fellow activists,

Sometimes, realities change and we fail to notice. The ground-shift since the enactment of the Right to Information Act on 15 June 2005 has gone unnoticed. Absorbed as we are in the details, I think we missed seeing the big picture.

The RTI Act gave us a lot more than just access to information. It shifted the balance of power. By making the walls of government porous, it allowed citizens to enquire into governance. It made every common man a superintendent over the activities of the State.

We the people of India awakened to a sense of our real ownership of this nation. But we the activists of India continued to beat our breasts and lament, and exchange old tales of our powerlessness.

Look around you. Every week, in each state and at the centre, new tales of heroism are emerging. Half a dozen Information Commissioners are each presiding over scores of hearings where the administration is on trial, where ordinary citizens are knowingly or unknowingly playing the role of prosecutors. These are not high-profile heroes like Anna Hazare and Medha Patkar, these are not seasoned system fighters… yet they are engaging the administration in a blow-by-blow battle. Painfully aware that the battlefield is slanted in favour of the administration, they bash on nevertheless!

Every week, heads roll, sometimes on both sides. Ordinary men and women living in ordinary neighborhoods fight with extraordinary courage for justice and truth. Can there be a greater Satyagraha?

Observe another massive change. Remember when conferences and seminars used to be for the select few, and one could count them on the fingers of one hand? Today, the equivalent of a dozen state-level and national-level seminars happen on the internet every day, routinely. Several thousand citizens come together on email and on discussion forums, and have an informed discussion in many languages. New insights emerge, new courses of action are decided and executed. This is the new face of activism.

This ongoing revolution is our new reality. The heroes of this revolution are in offices, at street corners, on buses and trains, in suburbs and slums. They eat, breathe and dream their fundamental rights and duties. They daily sacrifice their meager salaries and pensions, and the peace of their families, for one obsessive vision: a cleaner, more transparent India.


If this is true, then why are we stuck with our feelings of powerlessness and frustration? Because, locked into our own personal battles with the administration, we failed to see the larger picture of the revolution. We are victims of an outdated vision of victory that looks like the final scenes of a movie where villains fall into an abyss and their evil empires literally collapse. This, my friend, is an unrealistic fantasy. Such fantasies condemn people like you and me to remain frustrated and defeated, even though we are continually winning. Such unfulfilled fantasies are draining away our energy and self confidence.

Let us upgrade our vision. In the context of modern India, let us re-envision what victory means.

India is an aggregate of 1.2 billion lives and their dreams -- a massive nation with a huge momentum, moving like a mighty ship through the oceans. So victory cannot be your dream or mine alone. Victory cannot be a 180-degree U-turn by the administration; it can only be a gentle course correction of one or two degrees over some years. But take comfort: when a massive nation steers a couple of degrees, the effect is huge beyond our imagining. Everything changes.

Have faith, massive change will happen… but it will be so gradual and imperceptible that none of us will get any credit for it. There may be no thrilling historic moments. No evil empires will collapse dramatically, because they will dissolve and fade away over some years. There will be no dramatic surrender or laying down of arms, no Freedom at Midnight speeches. Victory will come as a gradual re-discovery of each citizen’s power to say NO to mundane evils in daily life. No glorious heroes will lead the “masses” into battle and emerge victorious; the masses – our countrymen -- will themselves regain a sense of individual and collective public morality, and fight a gradual war against injustice and untruth.

In this war, there may be no Bheeshma-pratigyas -- no grand acts of self-sacrifice or superhuman self-control, no fasts-unto-death, no spectacular Dandi March. There will only be the daily grind of several hundred RTI applications, appeals, hearings, complaints, representations, meetings and a general unwillingness to take the easy way out – an unstoppable nationwide grinding-down of indifference and corruption by small lawful and truthful acts.

So now the shift only needs to happen in our own hearts and minds -- a conscious shift in perspective that we activists need to make. We need to decide: are we investing our life’s energies on winning our own battles, and growing into tall and mighty trees on India’s skyline? Or are we investing in furthering the green growth of the shoots and saplings of “We the people of India”? The latter is a game at which we can never be beaten, regardless of the outcome of our individual battles.

Nazar ko badlo, nazaare badal jaayenge!

As an activist, I used to seek a kind of absolute and indisputable victory in our campaigns. But now I feel that winning is unimportant; what is crucial is that we do battle on a continuing basis, exerting broad moral and legal pressures on the system in the direction of the truth.

Warm Regards,
98215 88114

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