I wish to apprise you that Mr. Sajad Rasool, one of the activists who works with the J&K RTI Movement, has recently faced threats to his and his family’s safety after filing an RTI application assessing maladministration and possible corruption at the Anganwadi Centre in Raithan, Budgam District. This is the 4th time this year that RTI users in J&K have faced threats or outright violence.
The local police (under SP Budgam), and the CID have taken cognizance of this case and appear to be pursuing the matter in earnest, and so I write to you to alert you of what happened and to request you address the larger issue of threats against RTI users through a public statement.
The facts are as follows:
1. Sajad Rasool (pictured) is a 22-year old student from Raithan village who is completing his post-graduate degree in Public Administration with IGNOU, and has been active in using RTI in Budgam District as well as writing on social issues in Kashmir for the Education Mirror, Delhi-based newsweekly.
2. Under the Government of India’s Integrated Child Development Scheme, a female health worker is chosen from the local community and given 4 months training in health, nutrition and child-care. The health worker is then placed in-charge of the Anganwadi Centre under the supervision of a Child Development Project Officer (CDPO). The worker is responsible for ensuring immunization, healthy food, clean water, clean toilets and a learning environment for infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers for a target population of 1000 residents.
3. Recently, Mr. Rasool learned from locals that the health worker placed in charge of the Anganwadi Centre in Raithan is in fact from Srinagar city, and has not been attending duties regularly. Locals alleged that food provisions meant for infants in Raithan were being diverted by a corrupt nexus, and that the in-charge obtained the posting by presenting forged certificates.
4. Seeking clarification on the matter and seeking to improve the functioning of the Anganwadi Centre, Mr. Rasool filed an RTI application with the Assistant Public Information Officer (APIO) for the Social Welfare Department in Budgam (in the SWD, the APIO designated to receive RTI applications is coincidentally also the CDPO).
In his application, he sought the following information: (1) copies of the documents showing the qualifications of the workers, (2) information on the selection procedure of the workers, (3) the list of projects assigned to the Anganwadi Centre and their progress, (4) the quantity of supplies provided to the Centre, (5) a list of forthcoming Anganwadi Centres in the area, and finally (6) the procedure for opening new Centres.
5. His application was received on Monday 15 November by the CPDO (Nighat Majeed). (A copy of the application and text is enclosed in this letter).
6. Yet, four days later on Friday 19 November, Mr. Rasool and his family began to receive threats from cousins of the implicated Anganwadi in-charge. The cousins are two middle-aged brothers who work timber and in the PHE Department and reside in Raithan. Through neighbors, they threatened Mr. Rasool and his father: ‘Palav Kaeadith sozonai Moal te che nangay agar Raithan weathiv!” (If you or your father came to our village Raithan, we will tear off your clothes and send you naked to your home!).
In following days, intermediaries again came to Mr. Rasool’s house, and threatened “Adiji fedreawith soazouth gare!” (We will break your bones and send you to home!) and “Raithan menzi dimouy ne Pakneh!” (we will not let you go through Raithan!). Finally, they threatened to file false claims against Mr. Rasool, falsely alleging that he was harassing the concerned officer.
7. Mr. Rasool has not yet received a reply to his Right to Information application about the performance of the Anganwadi Centre in Raithan. It is also unclear how information on the RTI application was passed onwards to the implicated officer, and whether there is a corrupt nexus within the SWD seeking to block release of information under RTI. What is clear, however, is that a citizen legally seeking information for the public benefit under J&K’s RTI law is now being threatened with violence.
8. Finally, after his family was also threatened with violence earlier this week, Mr. Rasool filed an FIR with the SP of Budgam on 24 November and approached us for help. (A copy of the FIR is enclosed in this letter).