Sometimes, it helps to see the larger picture. We are satisfied with the mediocrity we wallow in because it is comfortable; it does not involve risk-taking and helps us cling to the status quo. But the challenge is to always look beyond. Can taking a risk be beneficial in the long run? Can we do something that will redefine our lives? Can we get pleasure from other people’s happiness? Most importantly, can we be a catalyst for that happiness?

All it takes is courage and determination, something that will come to you easily if your goal is clear. Aruna Roy’s story exemplifies that. Roy, who won the Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership and International Understanding, would have been just another IAS officer if in the ’70s she hadn’t decided to give it all up for a worthier cause.
She’d been in office only seven years, but was convinced that to see any change, she had to work with the poor, marginalised and voiceless people.

So she joined her husband Bunker Roy and worked with him on the Tilonia project in Rajasthan. The project’s goal was to empower villagers with skills and the courage to dream. That was the turning point in Roy’s life.
She pioneered the fight for the Right to Information (RTI) that’s causing ripples in India even today. Thanks to her efforts, hundreds of thousands of Indians have the freedom to ask for information. Today, all it takes is a simple RTI application to gain access to information that was once inaccessible.

Roy also set up the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathana not only to underline the importance of the RTI in a democratic country, but also to ensure the right to scrutinise official records, stop arbitrary governance and bring in transparency.

At the entrance of many villages in Rajasthan, you will see hoardings with information on how the panchayats have used government funds. She showed villagers the importance of information as a weapon on the basis of which they can demand better governance and put an end to corrupt deals embedded in official files which no one was allowed to access.
When she won the Magsaysay Award, she requested that it be given to her organisation instead since they were collectively waging the war for the right to information. But the award is given only to individuals, so she put the award money into a trust to support the process of democratic struggles.

Roy gave up the confines of her cushy and respected job to live in villages, and in the process not only redefined her life, but the lives of millions of others.
Ramesh Menon
Sunday, October 28, 2007 03:35 IST
Ramesh Menon is a documentary filmmaker and corporate trainer
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