A prominent Right to Information activist and supporter of social activist Anna Hazare's anti-corruption campaign was shot dead outside her residence in Bhopal on Tuesday morning.
Shehla Masood was shot dead by an unidentified assailant outside her house in the city's posh Koh-e-Fiza locality as she was on her way to an anti-corruption campaign being organised by her and other activists in support of Mr. Anna Hazare at the Bhopal Boat Club.
“We have registered it as a case of unnatural death. Anything more can be said only after the postmortem report,” Bhopal Senior Superintendent of Police Adarsh Katiyar told The Hindu.
Bhopal, not used to the professionally executed metro-style shootout, was stunned at the activist's death. “I am shocked. We had planned a proactive campaign where people would have been asked to write, on a 200-foot-wide banner, about the most corrupt government departments and officers in Madhya Pradesh,” Ajay Dube, RTI activist and long-time associate of Ms. Masood told The Hindu.
Ms. Masood, who also ran an event management company, had managed to constantly annoy the powers that be with her incisive RTI queries and public campaigns, mostly against corruption and for wildlife conservation. She was also a freelance journalist, contributing regularly to news website rediff.com on issues related to the environment and tiger conservation.
Last year, Ms. Masood had told the authorities she “feared for her life” from a senior officer of the Indian Police Service and had complained about the matter to two successive police chiefs of the State.
Ms. Masood had written to the current Madhya Pradesh Director-General of Police S.K. Raut, complaining against a particular officer.
In the letter, Ms. Masood had accused him of harassing her and making threatening calls to her, about which she had lodged a complaint at the city's Maharana Pratap Nagar Police Station in 2008.
“I fear for my life from [him]. Please do the needful and oblige,” she had urged the DGP.
The officer concerned, whose name The Hindu is withholding, did not answer calls or reply to text messages seeking his clarification on the matter. However, Bhopal IG Shailendra Shrivastava told The Hindu: “Yes, there was a complaint against the said officer. We sent Ms. Masood several notices offering probes at the thana level, additional SP level and DIG level, all of which she refused. Finally, I requested her to give me her statement. But she said she had filed a case against the said officer in Lokayukta and that she would give me a statement only once the Lokayukta probe was over.”
Like other RTI activists across India who have paid the ultimate price for making persistent and uncomfortable queries, Ms. Masood's efforts may well have put her in harm's way.
She was planning to file a Public Interest Litigation petition against a private college based on recent media reports. “It is a very powerful group of people, including local political leaders, that I will be up against once I file this PIL. I know who they are but I can't speak out much as I am still collecting information,” Ms. Masood had confessed, speaking to this correspondent last week.
Ms. Masood was also an active tiger conservationist and environmental crusader, constantly digging up information on the poaching mafia, illegal diamond mining mafia, timber mafia and the hospitality industry, which she said was violating environmental laws.