A vulnerable vocation

“We always knew that his activism was an eye sore to a lot of people who had access to criminals and money, but we underestimated their audacity,” said Sandeep Shetty as he spoke of his brother Satish’s death.

Satish Shetty was a Right to Information (RTI) activist who exposed many land scams in Maharastra. He was killed by unidentified men while on a morning walk near his house. On January 14, the Bombay High Court, issued suo moto orders to the Maharashtra Government and the State police to probe Satish Shetty’s killing.

“The government announced that it would launch an offensive against land sharks and the land mafia, promises were made but nothing happened. The man who blew the whistle in over 10,000 bogus cases, exposed several land scams was killed in day light — that’s all,” Sandeep added.

Shetty’s case is one of many cases in which RTI activists exposing scams have been attacked or killed in Maharastra. “Premkant Jha, Satish Shetty, Arun Sawant, Vithal Gite, Dattatreya Patil, Irfan Yusuf Kazi and many more….the list is endless!” says Ms. Abdulali, convenor of Movement against Intimidation, Threats and Revenge against Activists (MITRA).

MITRA has sent letters to Home Minister R.R. Patil, listing the attacks suffered by activists in the past few years. “RTI activist are easy to identify, they do not have any security and they usually expose matters that stir the corrupt practices of people with money and power. But the manner in which they are being killed speaks of how confident the criminals are of not being caught,” she adds

“We have seen in many cases that the attacked activist had revealed information that exposes politicians or business men or mafia who are directly or indirectly in a position to ensure that no steps are taken to provide safety,” RTI activist James John said. Mr John was attacked on five different occasions, he laughingly recollects, “In 2008 I was video graphing a staged riot, the goons beat me so bad that I had three fractured ribs, was in ICU was few days and in bed for few months…but I survived.”

“I won’t be surprised if I am killed because of the work that I do. Many people will make a lot of money if people like me do not raise questions about their activities,” 78-year-old HC De’lima said. Mr De’lima, who has been working to root out land mafia’s presence in Andheri, was attacked by sickles near his house in 2005.

Rajesh Darakh, secretary of Whistleblowers India, an action group for whistleblowers in India, used RTI to find out the status of investigations in Mr De’lima’s case. “Even to get a FIR registered you need to know some senior police officer, not that the entire force is corrupt but inaction and lack of conviction seems to encourage such attacks.” He added that criminals take advantage of the slow and faulty justice system.

RTI activist are under attack in large parts of the country for using the act to bring transparency in government functioning but the nexus between mafias, politicians and sections of the bureaucracy makes it difficult for the daily life heroes to stay alive.

“An activist’s job is a thankless one, hundreds of people can identify the culprits of land mafia, land mining mafia but when activists becomes the whistle blowers and when they are attacked there is no support from anyone. Also police protection for activists can only be for a limited period of time and the attention it brings will invite more trouble. We want is a safer environment to work,” Ms Abdulali said.Imageactism

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