ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Death of an Activist

It is becoming clearer by the day that the life of a dogged RTI activist is always at risk.

The murder in Bhopal of social and environmental activist Shehla Masood who was shot at point-blank range outside her home on 16 August was followed by a trend that has become familiar in high profile cases. The police first put forth various theories which are lapped up by the media that then indulges in wild speculation. In this case it began with a suicide theory which has now been given up. But with the investigation not making any headway, two weeks after the murder the media continues to speculate on any and every aspect of Masood’s life. A former event manager, Masood ran a non-governmental organisation (NGO) called Udai and had filed nearly 40 Right to Information (RTI) queries, including about the mining mafia in Madhya Pradesh, corruption in tiger conservation funds and police reforms.

Masood’s murder is the latest in a series of murders of RTI activists, which are often committed in public view. In Maharashtra, Satish Shetty, who had exposed a number of corrupt land deals, was killed in January 2010 in Pune while on a morning walk. Amit Jethwa, who had filed a petition in the Gujarat High Court naming a Bharatiya Janata Party Member of Parliament’s involvement in illegal mining in the Gir forest, was shot dead in July 2010 as he came out of the court in Ahmedabad. In all, the country has witnessed the murder of nine RTI activists – Maharashtra leads the list – while a much larger number have faced physical violence and threats. Invariably, the interests which are behind these murders are well networked with the corrupt bureaucrat-politicianpolice nexus and have access to muscle power. The activists, on the other hand, either operate alone or even if they are part of a group or NGO are ultimately helpless against the mafias.

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