Empowering millions of citizens through information, the Right to Information Act, introduced in 2005, gave new meaning to the motto "seek and you shall find." But some RTI activists could only find an answer in death.
On Tuesday, Bhopal-based activist Shehla Masood became the latest victim of a rising trend in attacks on such people who have tried to expose wrongdoings through the information disclosure law. In 2010 alone, at least 10 RTI activists were killed, apparently in revenge attacks.
Masood was shot dead in broad daylight by unidentified assailants as she was getting into a car outside her house in Bhopal's Koh-e- Fiza neighbourhood. There were no immediate suspects, but police said her campaign for wildlife and tiger conservation might have hurt some vested interests.
The killing came on a day when tens of thousands of people rallied across the country in support of Anna Hazare and his campaign for a stronger anti-graft law.
Masood was also enlisting support for Hazare in Bhopal. Her death has put the spotlight on the need for a stronger regime to protect whistleblowers and RTI activists.
"After every such incident, there are press reports and promises made by the government but nothing happens. Instead of gun-toting policemen for protection, we need an environment where ordinary citizens can take up issues without the fear of being attacked or killed," said Sumaira Abdulali of MITRA -- a campaign against intimidation and threats to rights activists.
The organisation had sent a letter to the home minister listing such assaults.
Besides physical attacks, RTI activists are routinely harassed and slapped with fraudulent cases to make sure they do not speak up, Abdulai said.
"The only deterrent against such attacks is to quickly make public the information that the activist was trying to get out," said Shekhar Singh, RTI activist and founder member of the National Campaign for people's Right to Information. "When those with vested interests realise that such attacks will only expose them quicker, they will refrain from them."
Here is a list of 10 RTI activists killed in 2010.
Filed RTI against horse trading in Kohlapur Municipal Election
Killed when his scooter was hit by a police jeep