Punishment For Seeking Information: RTI Activists Sent To Four Months Jail For A 19-Year-Old Case
Eminent RTI activist Nikhil Dey and four others have been accused of trespass and simple hurt under sections 323 and 451 respectively of the IPC by a Kishangarh court in Ajmer, Rajasthan on Tuesday, June 13, as reported by The Times of India. They had been sentenced to four month imprisonment.
The case, filed 19 years ago on 16 May 1998, pertains to a dispute with Pyarelal Tak, the then sarpanch of Harmada in Jaipur district, who had been accused by the activists of widespread corruption.
The court’s verdict was put on immediate stay, thus allowing the activists to file an appeal.
What actually happened?
The village Sarpanch, also a liquor contractor, was accused for not making payments for toilets, labour development works and Indira Awas Yojana houses. The embezzlement of money led to the non-payment of beneficiaries.
On May 6, Dey, along with four other activists, Ram Karan, Babu Lal ,Chotu Lal and Naurti Bai, went to the Sarpach’s office, carrying with them a letter from the Block Development Officer (BDO). The activists wished to seek information on the embezzlement, however, as the sarpanch was not in his office, they went to his house.
“When we arrived there [at Pyarelal’s house], we found him washing his motorcycle outside and called out to him. He arrived with some relatives, and shoved and pushed us. Since Naurti Bai is both a woman and a Dalit, they used foul language against her. One of the sarpanch’s relatives warned us not to return and gestured to us, forming a pistol with his hand, like when children play, and telling us we had better beware,” said Dey, reported The Times of India.
Dey and Naurti Bai, an activist from the same village, reportedly went 73 times to the Panchayat office to get information from the Sarpanch.
Speaking to The Logical Indian, noted RTI activist Aruna Roy of Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sanghatan (MKSS) said that this attack was more on Naurti than on anyone else.
“A Dalit leader, Naurti, had spearheaded many campaigns in the village of Harmada like that of anti-rape campaign, anti-Sati campaign and had been the erstwhile Sarpanch of the village. It was due to her efforts that an RTI was filed against the corrupt Pyarelal Tak,” said Roy.
Roy expressed her dismay at the decision of the Kishangarh court. In a case where RTI activists fought for the rights of the poor and unveiled prevalent corruption, the authorities, instead of putting the real criminal behind bars, ruled against the activists.
When power corrupts the justice system
The judgment of the two-decade old case was based on the false testimony of false witnesses pressurised by the complainant (the sarpanch). This is a clear example of “the backlash and attack that RTI activists consistently face when challenging entrenched centers of power,” say MKSS members.
Miscarriage of Justice: Fighting Corruption with RTI, leads to conviction in 20 year old false caseThe MKSS is…
Dey and the activists did not file a complaint even after being physically assaulted by the Sarpanch and his family members as they had faith on having healthy dialogue with the concerned party. But on May 8, Pyarelal filed an FIR accusing the activists of assaulting him. On the same day, MKSS activist, Naurti, who was upset by the village headman’s slurs and violence towards her, also filed a case against him under the SC/ST Prevention of Atrocities Act.
Incidentally, the case lodged by Pyarelal was closed on 30 June 1998, and for several years nothing happened. However, it was revived on 5 July 2001 during which Pyarelal had been producing false witnesses to mislead the court.
The MKSS and Roy said the conviction pertains to “an utterly false case filed by a corrupt, powerful sarpanch who misused his influence and power and who had himself physically assaulted them for demanding information in a case where the activists were fighting for the rights of the poor through means that were completely within the ambit of the law.”
The Logical Indian take
This is clearly a breach of law and a sordid example of how the efforts of the common man to fight corruption meets with failure when faced with corrupt power centres. When asked about MKSS’s stance on the situation, Roy good-humoredly said to The Logical Indian, “This is an outrightly illogical verdict that allows the real perpetrators of violence to go scot-free and accuses the activists.”