05 February 2005

What we are entitled to know, but dont know

In my last job as copy editor, I had interviewed Arvind, a core member of Parivartan (an NGO), as part of my story on the Right to Information Act. I have been meaning to write about Parivartan on the blog since quite some time now. It's happening today.

Parivartan does just this: help people of Sundernagari resettlement colony in East Delhi and other slums get their rights from various government agencies using the Delhi Right to Information Act. For the last two years, Parivartan has been seeking daily sales registers of the ration shop owners in different parts of Delhi.

Shouldn't be a struggle right? After all, they are just seeking public records. But it was. And is still going on. There have been at least five near-fatal attacks on its members. Indeed, information is power. The government officials are loathe to part with information, because that would strip them of their power. As a reaction to the latest attack on a Parivartan member, the people of Sundernagari colony decided to not take their rations (wheat, rice, sugar) for the month of February 2005. But they will check the records in March to see if the rations foregone were returned to the government or not. The monthly rations mean a lot to these people. Yet, they are ready to forego them for the sake of their right to information, or their right to live with dignity.

Parivartan is one of the few NGOs I have met up close and admire. The others are Mazdoor Kisaan Shakti Sangathan led by Magsaysay awardee Aruna Roy, and Janaagraha. Their work reminds me of P Sainath's statement that the government has to be involved in change. If you bypass the government, the change will be very limited. Especially so today in the age of gigantic all-encompassing corporates. But more about this in another post.

The NGOs listed above believe in working with the government through mechanisms provided by the government. Sometimes, of course, they have convinced the government into creating a mechanism (Eg: Jan Sunwai was adopted by the Rajasthan government after MKSS popularised it.)

When I was still doing my BA, I remember wondering why information was so important, and how could it solve problems such as poverty. As a journalism student, I quickly realised the need for information. With no press card in hand, I got to wait like any other citizen. I also understood how people empowered with information can and will build a better society.

On a different level, this is also why I think the information glut is happening in the wrong places. In the villages of India where there is such a hunger for information, the miracles that IT can create are many. But this calls for more open source and user-friendly technology.
The above paragraph might seem unconnected to what I began talking about, but look closely, it's not.
  • If you live in Bangalore you might like to bookmark this blog: Let's stop hatching eggs. It's little bits of information from here and there to find a place to go to, or about a movie fest, etc.
  • On suicide bombers: Terry Eagleton's Literary Theory impressed me a lot because that was my first serious philosophical reading, (apart form Nietzsche) and I seemed to understand quite everything! Recently I read his article where he talks about the difference between martyrs and suicide bombers. Take a look.
  • Probable Googles: Oh, this is hilarious. You never know, some of it might just come true. The world is full of Google nowadays. The page might take some time to load though.


Ubermensch said...

After this dear, i can see u stooping carrying expectations around...grim blog...more power to people who honestly want to make a difference...both journos and NGOs...

Sudarshan said...

Some philosophers say the art of print has brought about all tensions in life. NGOs without publicity will do a better job. What say?

Vijayalaxmi said...

Uber: Carrying expectations around? Yeah, I have lots of mine to live upto first :)

Sudarshan: I dont understand. What's so wrong about publicity? It can be used both ways, dont you think? Also, how else will you come to know there is good work happening somewhere?

Sudarshan said...

It can be used both ways..Zaheera's case for eg.,. If they publicize thier work for information alone is commendable which hardly is the case with *most* NGOs operating here.