A worried father who had not heard from his son for three days sends him an SMS: “How are you?” However, he never received a reply.
Shanmugam Manjunath, young marketing manager of the Indian Oil Corporation, was found shot dead in his own car.
“Murdered for sealing a corrupt petrol pump in Uttar Pradesh, this young man was killed for being a whistleblower. Much like Shanmugam, whistleblowers and activists almost always remain exposed to threats, violence and even death,” says Saleem Baig, a Right to Information (RTI) Act campaigner from Uttar Pradesh.
Mr. Baig is no stranger to being “marked out” for daring to question. He says: “After the RTI Act was brought in, people saw it was a very powerful tool against corruption, and those who used it demanding the greater good are never dealt with kindly.”
“India has witnessed over a hundred attacks on individuals who have demanded information and transparency through the RTI Act and several persons have been killed,” says Mr. Baig, who has been publically humiliated, jailed and forced to shift out of his native village.
The worst-hit among the ‘crusaders’ are those who seek information on land issues, implementation of the Public Distribution System, dispensation of government schemes and those challenging powerful wrongdoers, says another RTI activist K.P. Gangore, from Madhya Pradesh. “I have been threatened and false cases have been registered against me for daring to take on politicians, bureaucrats and those from the upper caste. Being a Dalit and an activist is like living on the edge all the time.”
With reports about atrocities against RTI activists continuing, activists are now demanding government protection and an amendment to the Act. “The issue was raised in Parliament; in 2010, the government had noted that the Indian Penal Code and the Code of Criminal Procedure have adequate provisions to enable law-enforcement [agencies] in the States to take preventive and punitive action. The Chief Ministers of the States and the administrators of the Union Territories were also asked to promptly inquire into incidents and take action. There is, however, a need to amend the RTI Act to protect those seeking information,” says activist Urvashi Sharma from Uttar Pradesh.