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In India, deadly backlash against freedom of information activists

Activists in India have been hospitalized or even killed as they tap the 2005 freedom of information act to expose government corruption.

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National Congress Party Sonia Gandhi and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh are at odds over the groundbreaking freedom of information act that many say is the first step to breaking down widespread corruption problems in India.

Manish Swarup/AP

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When Ajay Kumar asked New Delhi authorities last fall why a local politician had authorized the construction of private houses and shops on public land, he didn’t imagine the question would land him in the hospital.

The activist had inquired using India’s 2005 Right to Information (RTI) Act, which allows any citizen to ask for information from any level of government, from village leaders to the office of the prime minister. It presents a cultural sea change in India, where for more than 60 years state bureaucrats have acted more like colonial masters than servants of the people.

Mr. Kumar was stonewalled by the public information officer at the Municipal Corporation of Delhi, so he followed procedure and appealed to a higher-level public information office in the MCD. When he still heard nothing back, he went to the federal authorities, the Central Information Commission, which directed the MCD together with the police to jointly inspect the property.

But when Kumar arrived on site in January, he was attacked by a mob of two dozen that backed the local politician.

“Neither the police nor the people helped me,” says Kumar, who was beaten in the head repeatedly by an iron rod, leaving him unconscious and bleeding profusely. Kumar is now pursuing the matter in court.

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