When some simple questions came to the mind of Aishwarya Parashar, a Class-VI student of the City Montessori School, Lucknow, she did not let them languish unasked. She went seeking out answers through the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Aishwarya's inquisitiveness and willingness to pursue the source of information has yielded, till date, the establishment of a public library on the site of a garbage dump and the nation being better enlightened about the Father of the Nation, Mahatma Gandhi.
All of just 10 years, Aishwarya is a confident little girl, who herself answers a mobile phone and urges those wanting some written information from her to send her an SMS giving their e-mail ID and even forwards e-mail and communicates about her work on her own.
“I have so far filed three RTIs with the Prime Minister's Office,'' she says, adding that “the first one was [a query] about who gave the order for printing Mahatma Gandhi's image on currency notes. I was told in a reply that it was in 1993 following a meeting of the Reserve Bank of India.”
But it was her subsequent RTI asking the PMO to tell her who conferred the title of Father of the Nation on Mahatma Gandhi, which confounded the government. From the PMO, the query went to the Ministry of Home Affairs and to the National Archives of India, before Aishwarya was told that “there are no specific documents on the information sought” by her.
“That was really surprising because I never thought it was such a difficult question since even our history books taught us that Mahatma Gandhi was the Father of the Nation.”
The first reference to Mahatma Gandhi as Father of the Nation goes back nearly 70 years when Subhas Chandra Bose referred to Gandhi thus in a radio address from Singapore in 1944.
Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru too had, in his address to the nation upon Mahatma Gandhi's death, referred to him as Father of the Nation: “Friends and comrades, the light has gone out of our lives, and there is darkness everywhere, and I do not quite know what to tell you or how to say it. Our beloved leader, Bapu as we called him, the Father of the Nation, is no more.”
After getting an unsatisfactory answer to her query on this issue in March this year, Aishwarya on April 24 asked the PMO who had declared Mahatma Gandhi's birth anniversary on October 2 as also Republic Day and Independent Day national holidays. To her surprise, she got a reply dated May 17 that such orders were never issued.
The question most dear to Aishwarya's heart was posed by her in 2009. “That was the time when Lucknow was in the grip of swine flu. There was a big garbage dump near my school, but I only got to see it one day when my mother came to pick me up as my cycle-rickshaw had not come. For the parents there was a separate entrance, and on the way back home I spotted this dump.”
With the help of her mother, Urvashi Sharma, who is a social worker and RTI activist, Aishwarya penned an application in her own handwriting. “I had marked that query on the garbage dump to the Chief Minister and thereafter the Uttar Pradesh government got the dump removed, and our school constructed a public library on the site.”
Her father, Sanjay Sharma, is a lecturer.
Aishwarya wants to become a doctor. Asked why, she quips: “Whenever I go to a hospital, I see that the poor patients have to first shell out money in order to get treated. I will, on becoming a doctor, go to the slums at least once every week and provide free treatment to such poor people.”