“I’m glad I’m a woman; we just approach matters in a forthright and contagious manner,” declares 38-year-old Vinita Singh, director of the Mumbai chapter of Satark Nagrik Sangathan (SNS), or Society for Citizens’ Vigilance Initiative.
Her statement though, is made more in the context of her experience with the women she works with — those living in slums, struggling with the government machinery for the basics of existence.
“We found that nobody there knew their ration entitlement. They thought ration was ‘sarkar ki den’ (charity from the government)... For instance, they are supposed to get an average of 15 litres of kerosene a month, at Rs 9.10 a litre. But they had been paying Rs 10... it made them very angry,” says Singh.
One of the angry slum dwellers was Sheila Mandal (33), who lives in the Nehru Nagar in Mumbai. With Singh’s help, Mandal learnt how to file an RTI application and got 30 more women to do so. When they got their replies, they circulated them.
“The next time anyone went to the rationing office, she carried that piece of paper, and got her due,” says Singh. “Once they know how to work the RTI, they realise that any issue related to the government can be tackled.”
It is this realisation that Singh hopes to equip citizens with. Though she has two Master’s degrees, one of which is in marketing, Singh says, “I didn’t want to use my marketing skills for corporate purposes. I feel inspired every time a person stands up for his rights.”
“Empowering people with information is the key,” she believes. The 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai gave her a chance to reach out to youth: “Suddenly, they were sitting up, listening, asking questions about the government,” says the mother of two. The SNS then came up with a series of workshops at colleges, teaching students about the government. Her reward? In one of her sessions, a student asked, “You mean the government is actually accountable to each one of us?”