An open letter from Shailesh Gandhi
Noted activist Shailesh Gandhi was awarded the Nani Palkhiwala Memorial Award on Friday at Mumbai. Here is a reproduction of a public email form Shailesh Gandhi found in a Yahoo group, in connection with the said event.
From: Shailesh Gandhi
Date: Jan 12, 2008 2:07 AM
To: Citizens of India
Fellow Citizens of India,
It is indeed a great privilige and honour to receive this award instituted in the memory of Shri Nani Palkhiwala. He towered above most of us by his intellectual prowess, and insistence on adhering to values and the truth at all times. The hallmark of this man was that he followed his conscience with an outstandingly honest commitment to logic and facts. I feel humble in receiving this award instituted in his memory. It is also a privilige to have been selected by an Institution and a jury of great repute. I am conscious that this award is really more a recognition for the revolution of Right to Information, -than for me. RTI has swept across the Nation gaining strength by Citizen participation and activism.
The first campaign for Right to Information was started in 1990 in rural Rajasthan by MKSS,- led by Aruna Roy, Nikhil Dey and Shankar Singh. Across the country many people have been championing the cause of transparency and for codification of this fundamental right of Citizens. To name a few;- H.D. Shourie, Ajit Bhatacharjee, Prabhash Joshi, Jean Dreze, Maja Daruwala, Prashant Bhushan, Arvind Kejriwal, Prakash Kardaley and Shekhar Singh were amongst the many who have over the years agitated and lobbied for a good Right To Information Act. In Maharashtra we owe a great debt to Shri Anna Hazare not only for getting a good State Act, but also for spreading it as a Public movement, and continuously ensuring that the Government takes steps to improve its implementation.
Lokmanya Tilak's epic call still rings in our years -- " Swaraj ha maza janmasiddh hakk ahe, ani to me milawnarch". We have a reasonable system of elections. Citizens are able to change their elected representatives, but the Swaraj we dreamt of, never came.
What we have is an elective democracy, not a participatory democracy. This is because we have missed the essence of Lokshahi-which means Logonki Shahenshahi. The essence of democracy is that the individual Citizen is a sovereign in her own right, and she gives up part of the sovereignty to the State, in return for which she gets the rule of law. This respect for YOU,-the sovereign Citizen of India, and for the rule of law has been missed completely. Our Institutions have become playgrounds of the powerful, where the individual is helpless. If a Citizen approaches an elected representative, he may or may not get a hearing in 24 hours; if she writes to a Public servant she may or may not get an answer in 12 days; and if she approaches the Courts a BMW will metamorphose into a truck and the final decision will probably be obtained after a decade. The individual Citizen instead of being respected has become the bechara. If Tilak were here today he would have again said, " Swaraj ha maza janmasiddh hakk ahe, ani to me milawnarch", karan Swaraj keva aalach nahi. 15th August, 1947 only saw a transfer of Raj from the whites to the browns.
While we see a soaring sensex, a double digit growth of GDP and malls, and a growing number of billionaires, over 70% of my countrymen live on less than Rs.20 per day, and more than 45% of our children suffer from malnutrition. These Citizens of India bow with servility before the Public servant, prostrate themselves before their arrogant elected representatives and do not even dare to approach the judiciary. Investigations of criminal complaints in Slum Rehabilitation Authority matters have been stalled and the Criminal Procedure Code suspended by the Maharashtra Government, despite High Court orders. The Court waits for Godot, while the underworld has now taken over these matters. If the Common Citizen challenges the powerful criminals in Court, he might end up sacrificing decades of his lifetime for this folly. Six decades after Independence, India is seeing a reincarnation of the Princes and Zamindars in their new Avtars;- as monopolists and SEZ owners who actually dictate policy and implementation. The State provides the lathaits and the armies for these. The Government itself admits that around 25% of India's districts have chronic and endemic violence. Dr. Binayak Sen, has been locked up without any crime and with the knowledge of the highest court in the land.
Many others suffer across the Nation and they do not even weigh on our conscience -- since they are invisibles -- the 'Le Miserables' who will perhaps someday have to threaten our growth, progress and peace with violence to get their just dues.
In 1982 Mr. Palkhiwala had described the plight of the Citizen in this verse:
" His speech is of mortgaged bedding,
On his vine he borrows yet,
At his heart is his daughter's wedding,
In his eye foreknowledge of debt.
He eats and hath indigestion,
He toils and he may not stop;
His Life is a long-drawn question
Between a crop and a crop."
After a quarter century, i feel it could have been written yesterday.
Most institutions have failed India since they have become the domains of the powerful. Brazenly they have appropriated what belongs to the people, - lands, money and power. In this grim scenario there are two possibilities; - either a movement towards violent solutions by the disempowered, or a campaign for greater accountability and empowerment by Individual Citizens to monitor the Government and implement the laws. The contract is between each individual sovereign with the State. Right To Information provides an avenue for the Common Citizen to question his Government, get accountability, find out about policy implementation, expose corruption and get respect for the majesty of the Indian Citizen. The elegant law provides an inexpensive, timebound and simple instrument to Citizens, which can be used by them from their own house with an input of less than an hour and around 50 rupees.
Individual citizens have used RTI to curb corruption in the issue of ration cards, Incometax refunds, pensions and so on. A RTI application made the Government install jammers to stop the use of mobile phones by its inmates in Arthur road prison, while another forced a rapist cop to be dismissed. RTI reveals that 550 lessees in Mumbai illegally occupy 1200 acres of lands as illegal occupiers, though their leases have expired. This is done with the connivance of the Government. We the People lose over 8000 crores annually in Mumbai alone on this count. Privatisation of water supply was stopped in Delhi. A RTI query to JJ School of Arts made them realize the priceless paintings they were holding! Thus there are many varying and different ways in which Citizens are using RTI to monitor government performance, support the honest Public servants, curb corruption and get proof of laws being broken. Most importantly the individual Citizen-the Sovereign of India,- is feeling empowered and is beginning to impact on the Governance of the Country. He is seeing the possibility of getting the Swaraj which escaped her 60 years back. RTI is growing without any one organization or National leadership guiding or dictating it,- in short without any hierarchy. This is truly a Citizen empowerment revolution which is sweeping across the Country, awakening the common Citizen.
As I stand here, I would like to acknowledge my deep gratitude to the many well wishers, friends and my family who have given me immense love and warmth. My special thanks to my parents,-who are no more,- my daughter and son-in-law Ayesha and Omesh, and my wife Bharti who have supported me consistently in pursuing my convictions.
All of us individually share this historic opportunity to be the agent for the change we desire. Right to Information is helping to uncover the facts, the reality which exists in our Public Authorities. It is indeed a search and quest for transparency and truth. Sixty years back Satya helped us to rid the Country of our white masters, now RTI will help us to attain the Swaraj we missed. It is critical that we the People defend and nurture this Right for the next few years. The authority and the responsibility vest with you and me,-the Sovereign Citizens of India. I accept this award on behalf of the Common Citizen of this Nation, who is now empowered with his Right to Information to change the Governance of the Country.
All my emails are in Public Domain.
Defeat is not final when you fall down. It is final when you refuse to get up.