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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

RTI Activists: Why attacks happen, and how to stay safe

4th Jan 2011: The Sunday attack on two RTI activists (in Bhandup, Yashwant Gavand and in Talegaon, Arun Mane) has raised a big question in all our minds: HOW TO ENSURE OUR OWN SAFETY? I will offer you my own ideas, and the ideas of some colleagues. Firstly, let us talk about prevention, and then about cure.

PREVENTION -- Practice Clean RTI Activism:

1) PUBLICIZE & SHARE YOUR WORK ON A REGULAR BASIS. Many RTI activists make the mistake of stocking-piling the documents that they reveal through RTI, dreaming of the day that they will hold a press conference and suddenly reveal all their findings, or file a dramatic PIL. Some people also issue threats and warnings that one day, they will go public with everything that they know, but they keep postponing and looking for more dramatic material. This sort of behaviour gives wrongdoers a reason and motive to silence the RTI activist with threats, assault or killing. Please understand that if you are pursuing RTI activism, your safety lies in doing so openly and without any secrets. Sharing your work with journalists, fellow activists and the general public will not only prevent the threat-factors from building up around you, it will also enable your fellow-activists to assist you in your RTI investigations with their knowledge and expertise.

2) TEAMWORK & SAFETY IN NUMBERS. As far as possible, avoid working on a cause alone. Try to build up a team of like-minded people. Even if you don’t succeed, your team-building efforts will increase your visibility and cause other people around you to be aware of what you are doing, and also who the wrong-doers are. This reduces the probability of your being targeted.

3) AVOID MAKING THINGS PERSONAL. Please remember that you are fighting for a cause, and not fighting against an individual or a group of individuals. Doing letter-baazi without going face-to-face is often wise. One can file clearly-worded RTI applications, RTI appeals etc. and demand all replies in writing. From the very beginning, avoid all personal contact such as meetings and phone-calls with those who you feel are directly involved in corrupt activities. At all costs, avoid the temptation to challenge the person and saying heroic things like, “Mein tumko dekh loonga, parda-faash karke rakh doonga”. Do what you must do to fight corruption and seek justice, but please minimize ego-clashes. Because ego-clashes can trigger violent behavior.

4) STAY FOCUSED ON THE SYSTEM, NOT ON INDIVIDUAL INCIDENTS OF INJUSTICE. Our entire system is full of corruption and injustice. So please ask yourself whether you are wasting your life fighting against one individual or group. Take a broad perspective and fight for the larger cause. That way, you will gather a lot of support from other activists, and also make a bigger and more lasting impact. The important thing is that when you take up systemic reforms as an agenda, even the “bad guys” are forced to agree with you, because even they want to live in a clean and lawful world.

5) DON’T BE ASHAMED TO OCCASIONALLY RETREAT FROM A BATTLE, OR EVEN ACCEPT DEFEAT. Not every battle is worth taking a do-or-die sort of stand. We are only human, and therefore, we should be willing to take defeat in our stride. Sometimes, we should also be willing to give up battles that we feel are too much of a drain on our energies, or that have become too dangerous.

CURE -- If you have been threatened, widely publicize it with documents:

6) FILE NON-COGNIZABLE COMPLAINT (NC) & GIVE COPIES TO COLLEAGUES: Register a non-cognizable complaint with the police, and hand over copies of this NC to some RTI activists and friends. In case something untoward happens to you, the finger of suspicion will directly point to the person named in the NC, which can be circulated by your friends and relatives.

7) PREPARE A DETAILED AFFIDAVIT & GIVE COPIES: RTI and Human Rights Activist Pushkar Damle feels that filing an NC is not sufficiently detailed. He feels that one should prepare a detailed affidavit, which clearly states who you are, what RTI activism you are doing, and what are the corrupt and criminal activities you are exposing, because of which you may be targeted. Give the names and details of persons who may have reason to harm you, and also enclose copies of all the relevant RTI documents. Have this affidavit notarized, and hand over copies to RTI activists and friends, which they can hand over to the police and upload on the internet in case something untoward should happen to you. And above all, MAKE IT KNOWN TO ALL THE PEOPLE WHOM YOU FEAR that their black deeds are well-documented.

Last but not least, our safety depends on the OVERALL ENVIRONMENT of the state & country that we are living in. So please send this letter to Chief Minister, Prime Minister and NAC chairman Sonia Gandhi on own letterhead:

Warm Regards,


98215 88114

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