RTI activist Nikhil Dey, 4 others convicted in assault case in Rajasthan
A senior activist of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) Nikhil Dey and four others were convicted by a local court in Rajasthan’s Ajmer on Tuesday in a 20-year-old case of an alleged assault filed by a village head against them.
The munsif magistrate court in Kishangarh convicted the five under sections 323 (voluntarily causing hurt) and 451 (trespass in order to commit an offence punishable with imprisonment) of the Indian Penal Code, and sentenced them to four months of imprisonment.
However, the sentence has been suspended pending an appeal to be filed by the activists in the court of the additional district and sessions judge.
The case pertains to an incident on May 6, 1998, when the RTI activists – Nikhil Dey, Naurti Devi, Ram Karan, Babulal and Chotu Lal – demanded information from the sarpanch of Harmara gram panchayat regarding complaints of corruption in development works.
The allegations against Pyarelal, a liquor contractor of the village, included payments for toilets, Indira Awaas houses, and labour payments for development works, that had not been made to the beneficiaries.
“Because his office was usually closed during working hours, the activists went to his house to deliver the letter from the BDO (block development officer). The sarpanch came out of his house and physically assaulted the activists,” a press note from MKSS said.
Despite the attack, the MKSS activists decided not to file an FIR thinking that right to information cannot depend on police cases and that it had to depend on dialogue with the sarpanch and the exercise of a legal right under the panchayati raj act, it said.
However, on the same day, Aruna Roy of the MKSS wrote to the district collector to ensure the activists get the information.
On the May 8, the sarpanch filed an FIR accusing the activists of assaulting him. The same day Naurti Devi also filed a case against him under the Scheduled Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, 1989.
A statement from the MKSS said the organisation, which fought corruption and stood up for the rights of citizens, was disappointed by the court’s verdict.
Civil society organisations also expressed shock and dismay at the conviction. The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) also condemned the sentence.
“PUCL disagrees with the court. It feels several facts and evidence presented in the defence were not considered by the court,” PUCL said in a statement. “We will appeal against this and are certain truth will prevail. The country is with them,” it added.
Kavita Srivastava and Anant Bhatnagar of the PUCL said the sentence will not demoralise the activists or weaken the movement. “It will only encourage us to fight harder,” they said.
The case filed by the sarpanch was closed on June 30, 1998, but it was revived on July 5, 2001.
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