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Archives for : November2018

Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha- Mazdoor Karyakarta Samiti (CMM-MKS):  A Political Engagement of Sudha Bharadwaj

A significant share of popular sentiment is anti-activism today. Many people hardly trust activists. In fact they loath them, abuse them on social media and often make fun of their tragedy by sharing jokes around. Not just activists, movements for justice are mocked at and believed to be undesirable. The ruling establishment not only cashes in on such sentiment but also perpetuates it by criminalizing different activists. A population, engrossed in unlimited desire and overwhelmed by populist electoral promises, forget that the rights they enjoy are products of some peoples’ life-long struggle. Here, my focus is on the movement Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha- Mazdoor Karyakarta Samiti (CMM-MKS), which Sudha Bharadwaj has been associated with. In the context of the state hounding her, the judiciary denying her bail and putting her behind the bars, I am sharing some experience from my fieldwork for research.

CMM-MKS is an offshoot of Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha (CMM) led by the legendary trade unionist late Shankar Guha Niyogi. CMM arose out of a trade-union movement named Chhattisgarh Mines Shramik Sangh that began at Dalli Rajhara in the undivided province of Madhya Pradesh, India in 1977. It was a resistance against both the management and the existing union Sayunkt Khadan Mazdoor Sangh that didn’t take up contract labourers’ issues because of CPI’s (Communist Party India) support for the Emergency. Niyogi’s approach was unconventional. It raised not only issues of wages but also worked for abolition of contract labour and struggled against departmentalization of workforce as well as mechanization. He took worker’s struggle beyond the workplace to their neighborhood and villages by focusing on different socio-political issues- like women’s participation, alcoholism, health, and education of workers’ children and so on. It was a holistic approach with a unique conceptualization of working class situation beyond economism. He believed that the success of the struggle depended on the survival of the workers. Hence, the struggle was often accompanied by construction of alternatives. The movement established a hospital, a garage and several schools etc. The ideology of sangharsh aur nirman (struggle and construct) contributed to its stability and spread.

Niyogi was condemned to be a Naxalite and later assassinated on September 28, 1991.

In the aftermath of Niyogi’s death, the movement travelled its own path- from mass protest to prolonged struggle in court, gradual sanitization of its political potential, and finally the crisis. Varieties of conflict led to its fragmentation into different groups at Dalli, Raipur and Bhilai in Chhattisgarh (a province separated from Madhya Pradesh). Sudha Bharadwaj has continued her activism with the Bhilai group. Their effort was to go beyond the crisis and rebuild the movement. The organization has been remodeled by replacing traditional form of hierarchical leadership with ‘committee system’. They call their struggle as jan-adharit (people-based) instead of neta-adharit (leader-based). Its emphasis is on samuhik netrutwa aur byaktigat jimmedari (collective leadership and individual responsibility), so that the movement won’t die out of leadership crisis and corrupt leadership can be dealt with. At the same time, the gap between a leader and led can be reduced by involvement of masses in decision making. The idea is to convert a movement for masses into a movement of masses.

The movement has local committees, regional committees, regional leading committees and a leading committee. Apart from this, a monthly meeting of all the regional and leading committee members is arranged to reflect on different engagements. It works as the parliament of the movement where activities are reported, assessed and future plans are set. Unlike Niyogi’s time, now minutes of each meeting are written, revised and re-discussed each time. In the whole process virtues like anushasan (discipline) and alochana aur atmalochana (criticism and self-criticism) are emphasised. However, all the committee members belong to working class. Every morning, in the office they read news-papers and if they come across any news of resistance at some places they cut that portion of the paper and keep separately. Information may also come from different sources. Then, some of the regional committee members visit the place, meet the people there and write a report after coming back. After discussion in the leading committee meetings, they make future plan. It’s attempted to develop a rapport and confidence among the people through continuous visits, and then they form a local committee. This is where it begins. Such innovation has snowballed the movement into different districts of Chhattisgarh, such as Durg, Raipur, Baloda Bazar, Raigarh, Dhamtari and others. It also works with other movements through different cluster organizations like CBA (Chhattisgarh Bachao Andolan).

Bhilai group rightly calls itself CMM-Mazdoor Karyakarta Samiti as the committee members are none other than the workers themselves. Following Niyogi, it has also diversified itself into trade unions in cement, engineering and sleeper plants, anti-liquor campaigns, mobilization of women through Mahila Mukti Morcha, agricultural farmers’ resistance, establishment of housing settlements and schools in Raipur, different cultural activities as well as struggle against corporate-land grab and displacement and so on. Engagement in many fronts comes from a formulation that capitalism creates multiple layers of suffering, for instance, alcoholism and wife battering are effects of repressed masculinity at the workplace. A worker’s everyday life is seen together with the workplace. There is an understanding of simultaneity of contradictions with a specific emphasis on context.

Apart from bringing different causes together, the movement has prioritized movement participation of masses in a radical sense by their presence at every sphere of decision making. It emphasizes on training the workers to take up responsibilities. Responsibilities include both their life-world and resistance. Masses must learn to raise questions by asserting their many subjectivities (class, caste and gender etc.). They come up with creative ways for such training. One such effort is dividing the rank & file into many small groups or committees for ideological discussion or baicharik charcha. It functions like study circles, where they discuss about early days of the movement, Niyogi, Marxism, developmental issues and so on. They put it in three words, that is, lakshya (goal), disha (path given by Niyogi) and karyakram (programme). Very proudly, they call the movement their pathshala and reaffirm their motive in slogans such as pehele manke challis, ab janke chalbo (they will realize and move instead of only following their leaders). Such activities enable mutual engagement of people from different levels contributing towards critical reflection on issues around them.

It’s so fascinating to see workers discussing their neighborhood to workplace issues in a meeting after a day-long labour in the mines or nearby plants. It’s even refreshing to see women mobilizing themselves and confronting their alcoholic partners or a sexist colleague as well as engaging with the state representatives (officials, police, and lawmakers etc.). I have come across people who have given up liquor and reorganized their lives. Association with the movement has re-established hope when they were in distress. People in the housing settlements take pride in such association and dream to make it a peacefully livable community by fighting discriminations and other maladies.

Politics, here, is neither electoral nor of an unorganized ‘multitude’, nor of any revolutionary violence. It’s more of an organized process of conscientisation to develop critical awareness. Committee members’ prolonged engagements with people are reflective of that. Again, the libertarian antipathy to traditional forms of leadership is meant for a bottom-up approach to consciousness building and struggle, and thereby transformation. The values, envisioned, are attempted to be practiced. Thus, democracy is not violated but resurrected through a complex intersectional understanding of the working class situation.

There are many disagreements and confrontations- Satnamis confront Sahus (caste groups), women confront men, new generation confronts the old, and they all confront the capital and the state. It makes the movement lively and its politics radical, but violence has never been encouraged. I remember an incident from a rally at Baloda Bazar, where a group started a slogan juta maro salonko (hit them with shoes). Sudha Didi (called so by everyone) as a leading committee member vehemently opposed it, and it was stopped.

One can debate and dispute with the entire matrix of formulations, activities and experiments happening there. And, that constitutes the history of politics. But, narratives of violence attempt to create setbacks for peoples’ struggle by creating a legitimacy crisis. Such efforts fail. Today, even the kids from the workers’ families shout slogans identifying themselves with Didi, the way some others did when Niyogi was condemned. The very slogan they give is Sudha Didi Naxali hai to hum bhi Naxali hain (if Sudha Didi is a Naxalite, we are also Naxalites). Because they have lived with her in the same labour camp, seen her engaging affectionately with Anu (her daughter) and other kids, patiently having discussions in meetings, delivering fiery speeches at mass gatherings, arguing for justice in the courtroom  and spending sleepless nights with the case files of deprived (mostly pro bono). Given her attachment with the masses, conscious effort for their empowerment and dedication for a better society, it’s difficult to digest the allegation of violence brought against her.

Dillip Kumar Dash (Research scholar at University of Hyderabad.)

 

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Women Cry Rape To Get Back At Ex-Boyfriends, Says Haryana CM Khattar

The Chief Minister said the biggest “concern” these days was the newfound propensity of women to lodge rape cases.

Women Cry Rape To Get Back At Ex-Boyfriends, Says Haryana Chief Minister

This is not the first time Manohar Lal Khattar has made a controversial remark on rape.

CHANDIGARH: Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar today waded into yet another controversy by suggesting that women file false rape cases only to get back at estranged male companions.

Addressing a public gathering in the state, Mr Khattar began by denying reports that Haryana has witnessed a spike in rape cases in recent years. “Rapes used to happen earlier and they are happening now. It’s only the concerns that have increased,” he said.

The Chief Minister then went on to speak on the biggest “concern”, which — according to him — was the newfound proclivity of women to lodge rape cases. “Around 80-90% of the rape and molestation cases happen between people who are familiar with each other. They roam around together for days, and when they finally squabble one day, the woman files an FIR saying that she has been raped,” he said.

Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala dubbed the statement as deplorable. “Anti-Women Mindset of Khattar Govt Exposed! Haryana CM Khattar ji makes an utterly condemnable remark. Blaming Women for complete failures to control Rapes & Gangrapes? Deplorable!” he tweeted.

This is not the first time Mr Khattar has blamed women for the increasing number of rapes in his state. In 2014, he said that women “instigate” men to sexually assault them by wearing flimsy clothes. “If a girl is dressed decently, a boy will not look at her the wrong way,” he had said. “If they really want to enjoy their freedom of choice, why don’t they just roam around naked? Freedom has to be limited. These short clothes are Western influences. Our country’s tradition asks girls to dress decently.”

Significantly, a report tabled in the Haryana assembly recently showed a 47% increase in rape cases and an over 100% spike in kidnapping of women across the state since 2014-15. The data also revealed a 26% increase in molestation cases over the last four years.

Mr Khattar is not the first politician to justify rape cases in the country. In 2014, Samajwadi Party leader Mulayam Singh Yadav had said that rapists should not be awarded the death penalty because “boys will be boys, and they make mistakes sometimes”.

In 2012, a Jind khap panchayat leader identified the consumption of chowmein — a fast food item — as the reason for men getting involved in rape cases. “In my understanding, consumption of fast food contributes to such incidents. Chowmein leads to hormonal imbalance that evokes an urge to indulge in such acts,” he said.

https://www.ndtv.com/india-news/women-cry-rape-to-get-back-at-ex-boyfriends-says-haryana-chief-minister-1949127

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Denied Ambulance, Father Forced to ‘Secretly’ Carry Baby’s Dead Body in Bus for 8 Hours in J & K

The bereaved family has alleged that had Kishtwar deputy commissioner Angrez Singh Rana helped, the child would have been alive today.

Srinagar: The heaviest load that labourer Mohammad Sultan has carried in the last 30 years was a tiny body weighing 12 kg. The body of Manan, his two-year-old son.
Hidden from many eyes and snuggled slyly in a blanket, the stiff body of little Manan was carried through Thursday night and Friday morning till it reached Kishtwar, where it stoked massive street protests.

The baby could have been on the path to recovery had the poor family been able to move Kishtwar deputy commissioner Angrez Singh Rana into action for making available a critical care ambulance that was lying not far away. Neither Rana nor his subordinates and officials at the Kishtwar district bothered to act.

Rana, however, claims protests are political. “The district hospital people told me the critical care ambulance was not in town. It was returning from Jammu and was caught in a traffic jam,” Rana said in his defence. “People who are leading the protest against me are trying to politicise the issue,” he said.

But Sultan and Muzaffar Hussain, his nephew, are in a state deep shock and grief.

“It was a long night which we will never forget. We spent 12 hours with a dead baby in a bid to take him home for burial,” Hussain told News18 from Kucchal village in Kishtwar.

“No one was willing to take us back home through the night. We turned to everyone for help, spent six hours at the Jammu bus stand. Finally, we decided to board a passenger bus without telling anyone that a baby lay dead in a folded blanket,” he added.

Sultan and Hussain carried a lifeless Manan for 230 km from Jammu to Kishtwar for eight hours, exactly the same time they had spent travelling from Kishtwar when they were referred to Jammu’s SMHS speciality hospital.

Recalling the tragic events, Hussian said that on Thursday morning they took Manan to Kishtwar hospital after he started feeling drowsy at his home in Kucchal village.

“Manan was administered some medicines at the hospital, but when he did not show any improvement, we were told his condition had deteriorated. The doctors told us that the baby was suffering from acute pneumonia. They referred him to Jammu children’s hospital,” he said.

He said the family sought help from Ababeel, a a local voluntary organisation, which requested Rana to provide a critical care ambulance to ferry the child to Jammu.

“When we entered DC sahib‘s room, he asked us to leave forthwith saying ‘no one dies of pneumonia’,” Hussian added.

“Even his deputy told us to leave. We collected money for the poor family and later rushed them to Jammu in an ordinary ambulance,” said a senior functionary of Ababeel. “The hospital management provides ambulance to the patients only after fuel charges are paid,” he said, adding that even poor patients have to pay.

The family and NGO members alleged that they tried to reason with Rana and his deputy that since they could not afford the payment, they be given an ambulance free of charges. “But since they did not agree, we collected and paid Rs 3,800 as charges,” the Ababeel official said.

Rana admitted that this was the norm, but added that exceptions are made in some cases. “Had they requested, I would have considered,” he said.

Sajjad Ahmed Najjar, a local councillor, flayed the district administration and demanded that Rana and the hospital administrators be suspended or shifted out of Kishtwar “for negligence leading to death of a baby”.

He even led a protest outside District Hospital, Kishtwar, where many residents staged a sit-in with the body when it arrived from Jammu just before noon.

Najjar alleged that the district administration did not even ask the driver of the ambulance, in which Manan was taken to Jammu, to bring back the child’s body even though he was in the same city.

“They are so irresponsible that they did not think of allowing the family to give a decent burial to a small baby,” he said.

The protestors have demanded that the police register an FIR against Rana, his deputy and hospital officials for carelessness.

However, the protests ended when a local tehsildar assured of an inquiry and compensation for the family. Late on Friday, little Manan’s body was buried in Kucchal

village.
https://www.news18.com/news/india/denied-ambulance-father-forced-to-secretly-carry-babys-dead-body-in-bus-for-8-hours-in-jk-1941701.html

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Why many women don’t speak out about sexual abuse ‘immediately’ #MeToo

In cases of sexual violence, power is a big factor at play. And unless we realise how this power plays out in everyday situations, we can keep harping – “Oh but why didn’t she speak sooner.”

Nandhini* was on the lookout for a job in 2009, when she made the acquaintance of a senior journalist in Hyderabad. The man was a big name in news television and told her that he would help her with leads. The news that Nandhini had outed a predator in the organisation where she was working had spread, and the then-21-year-old was desperately looking to get a new job as the environment in the newspaper she worked with was getting uncomfortable. The senior television journalist added her on Facebook, praised her courage for outing her predator, and on the pretext of setting up a meeting with his wife – also a senior journalist – he took her to his house and sexually assaulted her.

“When we went up to his house though, I realised that the door was locked. I got uncomfortable and said I will come back later. He said his wife must have stepped out to pick up their daughter, and asked me to come in and sit down. This man then went into the kitchen to get some water. When he came out, he had unzipped himself and had his penis out. I was frozen, shocked and scared, and got up to leave. He held my hand pushed me down on the sofa and forced me to give him a blow job, even as I was crying,” Nandhini says, “He then threw a box of tissues on me, asked me to clean up and get out of the house.”

“When the incident happened a decade ago, I was too shaken and shocked to process it. All I felt was shame,” Nandhini tells TNM, “Since I had just gone through the trauma of being harassed at my then workplace and being stigmatised for having raised my voice, I felt that if I spoke up about the assault I would be shamed again.” The journalist who assaulted her also made her believe that no one would trust her if she spoke up. “He told me no one would believe me because many in the media circles thought I was ‘off’. I guess I believed that and didn’t want to put myself through another round of being stigmatised, so I did not reveal what happened to anyone,” she says.

“I thought this was the best thing to do for self-preservation. Now I know it’s this culture of silence that allows men to get away with impunity and predatory behaviour,” Nandhini says, days after she spoke up about the assault for the first time in a #MeToo post. In the last decade, the journalist – and his wife – have only grown more powerful in the industry, and while she has heard whispers of his misconduct with other women, he has not faced any repercussions for his behaviour so far, she says.

Like Nandhini, many women who face sexual abuse, assault, and harassment don’t report it or speak up about it immediately after it happens for many reasons. In many cases, there is a power differential between the survivor and the perpetrator; survivors risk losing their livelihood if their perpetrator is a powerful man in the same industry, and for many women, redressal mechanisms are not immediately apparent.

Reason 1: ‘Good girls stay quiet’

Singer Chinmayi, who has accused prominent Tamil lyricist Vairamuthu of misbehaving with her, says there is a conspiracy of silence that women are forced to follow. “When it first happened, I told my mother about it – and in the course of several years after that, I have told some other people too about how he misbehaved with me; so in these discussions, others have told me that he has behaved inappropriately with them as well – but we’re in a culture where women are told to not speak out about these things,” Chinmayi tells TNM.

“Maximum – we share with our ‘girl gangs’ about who is a pervert. That women must take care of themselves around certain men. We’re not in a society where we are encouraged to speak up about sexual harassment,” she adds.

“We are conditioned from childhood to hush up when something bad happens,” Nandhini says, “An uncle touches you inappropriately and you tell your parents, and parents hush you up. They either don’t believe you, or believe you and worry too much about you being tagged ‘violated’. In schools too, there is very little conversation on consent, safe touch, unsafe touch – and somehow, girls and women are brought up to carry the burden of shame that isn’t theirs.”

Reason 2: ‘No real mechanisms for redressal’

Veteran Bollywood writer-producer Vinta Nanda, who recently accused actor Alok Nath of rape 19 years ago, tells TNM that when the crime happened, such behaviour was so normalised there was rarely a question of seeking redressal.

“It was not considered ‘wrong’ anyway, so what will you go and report?” she asks, “Now there is a provision for ICCs (Internal Complaints Committees for sexual harassment) – back then there were no platforms for redressal. So, who would I go to?”

Going to the court, Vinta says, is a process that not many women can afford – both financially and in terms of time. “It’s only in the last month that ICCs are being set up in the film industry. Before there were ICCs, where could we go? Going to court would take our life away. I did not feel empowered to speak up 20 years ago,” she says.

Reason 3: ‘When the man is powerful, no one believes you’

“More than anything else, the man who misbehaved with me was very powerful,” says Chinmayi, “so there was fear.”

“In many cases, coming out means losing all the support you have, if the man you’re accusing is powerful,” Vinta explains.

In Nandhini’s case, the man in question has already displayed how he will react when someone accuses him. “When another woman came out with her #MeToo story about him, his wife decided to intimidate her, and he decided to shame her in a statement,” Nandhini says, explaining why she has chosen to not reveal her identity. The day she made her #MeToo statement was the first time Nandhini spoke out about the assault to anyone – the first instance she has acknowledged the assault. “Reliving my trauma is difficult enough,” she explains.

Reason 4: Layers of oppression

Nandhini says that among the many disgusting things the senior journalist said when he assaulted her, was, “Glad you were upper caste, no way I would let anyone else touch my penis.”

The very fact that most of the voices that have been heard in this wave of the #MeToo movement in India points to how much more difficult it is for marginalised women, men, and non-binary folks to speak up. As former Miss India and actor Niharika Singh said in her #MeToo statement, shared by journalist Sandhya Menon, “Violence against women may be a common feature faced by all women in India, but there is no denying the fact that certain kinds of violence are customarily reserved solely for Dalit women. More so for those who assert themselves and reject caste and patriarchal domination. While crimes against upper caste women are taken seriously and elicit more empathy, violation of rights of Dalit women and the injustice meted out to us has an excruciating long history. Statistics show that crimes against Dalits have risen by 746% in the last one decade. A Dalit atrocity is committed every 15 minutes and six Dalit women are raped every day. Most cases are neither registered nor acted upon and the perpetrators go scot-free.”

The way forward

“When people ask why women don’t speak up, or why women don’t speak up sooner – I think that question can only be asked after you make the society safe for women,” Vinta says, “Me Too has brought the discussion about sexual violence into the mainstream, and has brought men into the discussion as well. There’s a tectonic shift in the discourse.”

“We need to create safe spaces for everyone – whether they have support systems in their industry or they are outsiders. Only then can women feel empowered to speak out and seek justice,” she adds.

Chinmayi says that it’s only when there is more dialogue that people will feel confident about speaking out. “We as a society are in a constant state of denial that something like this can even happen,” she says, “We need to understand that it’s possible that an extremely talented individual could also be a sexual predator. It’s possible that someone who’s work we have really loved is a sexual predator. We, as a society, need to figure out how we’re going to treat someone whose work we love, admire and respect – but the man has personal failings.”

“If the culture of silence needs to stop, then hear us survivors out.  Without shaming us. Without judging us,” says Nandhini.

Most importantly, we need to dismantle power structures that enable such sexual violence, as Niharika Singh said. “It’s time to realize that the pompous, neoliberal, savarna feminism is not going to liberate anyone. Unless the Savarna feminists dismantle the same power structures from which they have benefitted, women in this country will continue to be gaslit, exploited and maligned; their dreams thwarted, voices silenced, bodies assaulted and histories erased. The selective outrage of the supposed ‘liberals’ and ‘Indian leftists’ benefits only their convenience, and we most note that it finally took a Dalit student, Raya Sarkar in academia and a beauty pageant winner, Tanushree Dutta, to burst the Bollywood bubble while they silently looked on for years.”

*Name changed

https://www.thenewsminute.com/article/me-too-why-many-women-don-t-speak-out-about-sexual-abuse-immediately-91747

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Bhima Koregaon Violence – Activist Varavara Rao Arrested again by Pune Police #WTFnews

Nine activists across the country had been raided by the Pune Police for alleged Maoist links; five of them were arrested, including Varavara Rao.

Activist Varavara Rao Arrested Again For Alleged Link To Maoist Plot

Hours after the extended house arrest came to an end, the Pune police Saturday arrested activist Varvara Rao from Hyderabad in connection with the Elgaar Parishad event case. The Telugu poet was taken into custody and will be presented before a Pune court.

Joint Commissioner of Police (Pune Police) Shivaji Bodakhe told PTI that an extension of his house arrest granted by the Hyderabad High Court expired on November 15.

On Friday, the Supreme Court had deferred the hearing in the arrests of activists, held in connection with the Elgaar Parishad case, to December 3. On October 29, the apex court had stayed the Bombay High Court order that put on hold a trial court decision granting more time to Maharashtra Police to complete the investigation against five accused.

In a chargesheet filed earlier this week, the Pune police claimed that the Elgaar Parishad, a one-day conference held in Pune on December 31 last year, was organised as per a plan by the banned CPI-Maoist, to mobilise Dalit groups and other organisations against the government. It further alleged that the “inciting speeches” at the event “provoked the masses and aggravated violence” in Bhima Koregaon the next day, January 1, when thousands of people had gathered there to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon.

Interviews to media, speeches at memorial lectures and criticism of the central government for granting permission to various MNCs in Chhattisgarh have been listed by Maharashtra police among the key evidence of the alleged involvement of poet and columnist P Varavara Rao in the Elgaar Parishad event.

Police have so far booked 22 people in this case including five rights activists and lawyers Sudha Bharadwaj, P Varavara Rao, Vernon Gonsalves, Arun Ferreira and Gautam Navlakha who were arrested on August 28. These five were placed under house arrest for five weeks on the directions of the Supreme Court on September 28. Bharadwaj, Gonsalves and Ferreira were later arrested by police and are in judicial custody.

AGENCIES

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RTI Act is being steadily emasculated by spurious use of ‘personal information’ exemption

The right to information is being steadily constricted by gross subversion of the law and Constitution. RTI Act mandates in Section 7 (1) that information can only be refused for exemptions specified in Section 8 and 9. Personal information may be exempted under Section 8 (1)(j) when “disclosure … has no relationship to any public activity or interest, or which would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual unless the Central Public Information Officer or the State Public Information Officer or the appellate authority, as the case may be, is satisfied that the larger public interest justifies the disclosure of such information: Provided that the information, which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person.”

A simple reading of the words shows that information under this clause can be denied if it is personal information whose nature has apparently no relationship to any public activity or interest; or whose disclosure would cause unwarranted invasion of the privacy of the individual. If the information is personal information, it must be seen whether the information came to the public authority as a consequence of a public activity. Generally, most of the information in public records arises from a public activity. Applications for a government job, ration card, passport, caste certificates are some examples of public activity.

However, there may be some personal information which may be with public authorities public activity, eg medical records, or transactions with a public sector bank. Similarly, a public authority may come into possession of some information during a raid or seizure which may have no relationship to any public activity. These would be exempt.

Unfortunately, it has become commonplace for adjudicators to truncate this clause and deny all information which can be connected with any person. Across the country information about MLA funds expenditure, officer’s leave, caste certificates, file notings, educational degrees, beneficiaries of subsidies and much more is being denied. Many PIOs are denying information which may have the name of a person claiming it is personal information and hence exempt.

Even if the information has arisen by a public activity, it could still be exempt if disclosing it would be an unwarranted invasion on the privacy of an individual. The denial of information from public records on grounds of privacy has to be in line with Article 19 (2) of the Constitution which allows placing restrictions on Article 19 (1) (a) in the interest of ‘decency or morality’. If, however, it is felt that the information is not the result of any public activity, or disclosing it would be an unwarranted violation of ‘decency or morality’, before denying information it must be subjected to the acid test of the proviso: “provided that the information, which cannot be denied to the Parliament or a State Legislature shall not be denied to any person.”

Public servants have been used to answering questions raised in Parliament and legislatures. Hence, when they have a doubt, the law requires them to consider if they would give this information to the elected representatives. They must first come to the conclusion that they would not provide the information to MPs and MLAs, and record it when denying information to citizens.

Another perspective is that information is to be denied to citizens based on the presumption that disclosure would cause unjustified harm to some interest of an individual which should be protected. If, however, the information can be given to legislature it means the likely harm is not very high since what is given to legislature will be in public domain. Hence, it is necessary that when information is denied based on the provision of Section 8 (1) (j), the person denying the information must give his assessment that such information would be denied to Parliament or State legislature if sought in the decision.

This exemption has been illegally made so wide as to deny most information. This is an illegal and unconstitutional emasculation of RTI by a majority of officials, commissioners and courts. An important fundamental right is being curtailed and the right to publish could be next.

The writer is former Central Information Commissioner

TOI

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