Though RTI activists Ram Kumar Thakur and Shimbu Ram Bishnoi lived over a 1,000 km apart, their lives and their deaths followed a similar storyline. Eager to expose corruption by their village headmen, they both began using RTI applications for unravelling the truth and ended up attracting the ire of the powerful politically connected persons in their villages, who allegedly killed them mercilessly.
The family members and friends of both these whistleblowers are in Delhi these days, campaigning hard for the passage of the Whistleblowers Protection Bill so that some level of security is accorded to others like them who want to rid the system of corruption. Along with activists of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), they have been agitating for the passage of the Bill outside the offices of various political parties, including the Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Ram Kumar was a lawyer and an RTI activist from Muzaffarpur in Bihar and had filed nearly 40 RTI applications on violations in the implementation of MNREGA and Indira Awas Yojana in his native Ratnauli panchayat.
“As he raised objection to the inclusion of ghost names in the muster roll, he was beaten up by ‘mukhiya’ Raj Kumar Sahani’s men. Despite two to three attacks on his life, Ram Kumar still kept pursuing cases. The culprits just shot him on March 23, 2013,” said his friend and another RTI activist Sanjay Sahani. He has come to Delhi to seek the passage of the WP Bill.
Six persons were named in the FIR but none have been arrested so far. “In fact, the accused ‘mukhiya’ after remaining in hiding for a few months is now back in the village and has been threatening Ram Kumar’s family to withdraw the case. He is a member of the ruling Janata Dal (United) and so Ram Kumar’s family, which includes his wife and three minor children, is obviously scared of him.”
“We just cannot move around alone as the culprits would not think twice before killing us too,” said Mr. Sahani.
A 1,000 km away in Rajasthan, a similar story played out in October 2013, when 33-year-old Shimbu Ram Bishnoi was allegedly beaten to death by his Jesla village headman and his associates in Jodhpur district for daring to expose corruption in various welfare schemes.
“He had complained about siphoning off nearly Rs 1.6 crore and discrepancies in tubewell schemes, MNREGA enrolment, forged job cards and list of beneficiaries for public distribution system,” said Shimbu’s elder brother Jagdish.
“On October 7, 2013,” he recalled, “when Shimbu had just started from the village to his home, he was abducted. He was later found beaten to death in a village compound. Six persons, including village Sarpanch Soda Ram, who is a member of the Congress, were named in the FIR and he along with his son, brother and a cousin have been arrested. However, the other two accused, his other brother Manohar Lal and son Uggrasain are still at large and have been threatening the complainants.”
Shimbu’s nephew Jagdish said following the incident there has been no compensation from the government for the whistleblower’s widow. “She and her four young children have no source of income and are now surviving on the help given by other relatives. No one from the Rajasthan Government or any political party has come forward to help them.”