Shehla Masood: The Soldier of Truth
Shehla Masood, the Wildlife Conservationist.
Shehla Masood, the Environmentalist.
Shehla Masood, the Nature Conservationist.
Shehla Masood, the Next Generation Social Media Activist.
Shehla Masood, the Human Rights Activist.
Shehla Masood, the Transparency Crusader.
Shehla Masood, the Anti-Corruption Radio Jockey.
Shehla Masood, the Anna Hazare Crusader…
…. Shehla Masood, the Martyr. Period.
Shehla was a soldier of Righteousness. Whatever was a Right Cause, she never failed to stand up for it and even take to streets. In the last 120 days itself before her death, Shehla was on the streets about 30 times. Through her about 1000 Right to Information (RTI) applications before her death, she pressed hard for 100 % transparency in diverse areas like Judiciary, Tender Process, Enforcement of Wildlife Laws and Forest Laws, Heritage Conservation, Lavish spending of Public Money, Human Rights Abuse, etc. Little is it known that she was also the President of Progressive Muslim Women’s Association and of the Bhopal Heritage Foundation, Co-ordinator of India Against Corruption (the name of the Anna Hazare’s movement), and Secretary of Udai under which she took up the rest of her activities. She strengthened Democracy significantly by “arguing endlessly with policy makers”, in her own words. Wherever she went she made it a point to talk to the policy makers there and assert the need for revamping the system, which was, and is, required almost everywhere. Be it the Environment Minister at the Centre, Tiger Cell of Madhya Pradesh, the Director of Corbett Tiger Reserve, Chairman of the Forest Department and Forest Officers, Members of Parliament, Member of Legislative Assembly, Principal Information Officer, Contractors, Protocol Officers of the Chief Minister’s House, Indian Police Service (IPS) officers, Chief Wildlife Warden, all have had to face pressure for transparency and better governance from this vigilant civil society soldier. She also very frequently wrote to various Government authorities apprising them of the problems at the ground level and suggesting solutions.
Shehla was also one of the biggest proponents of the Jan Lokpal Bill in Madhya Pradesh. She had studied the Jan Lokpal Bill extensively and firmly believed that it was a fitting and practical solution for whatever she had been facing and fighting against for a long time. She made extensive suggestions when the Jan Lokpal Bill was in its development phase and some of her suggestions were even incorporated into the Bill. Shehla had also been raising voice for Whistle Blower Protection from early 2005. She was deeply concerned about Victimization of Whistle Blowers and mentioned it repeatedly while talking to policy makers and close friends. This is why she was deeply impressed when provisions for Whistle Blower Protection were included in the Jan Lokpal Bill by Arvind Kejriwal. She was also very appreciative of Shri Jairam Ramesh when he was the Environment Minister in the Central Government, saying that it was for the first time that she is seeing a ray of hope for the environment in India.
But, Shehla Masood was brutally murdered on 16th August 2011, as she sat in her car on her way to Boat Club in Bhopal to fast with Anna Hazare for the Jan Lokpal Bill. The bullet pierced her as she was on an empty stomach as she had already begun her fast, turning this Tigress, as she was known among her close friends and who was a deadly cocktail for the corrupt, into a harmless corpse.
Did I say “harmless”? No. Shehla Masood has made her point most forcefully in her death. A group of her close friends have pledged to not let this Victimization of Social Reformers continue any further. They have decided to punish the people who killed her in a novel way. While the investigation has been disappointing so far, this group of her friends has decide to re-file her 40-odd pending RTI applications to trouble exactly those who wanted to silence her because they didn’t want to reply to her pending RTI applications. This group of her friends includes people from varied backgrounds like Anita Kapur Bhargava, founder of ‘Let’s do it! Delhi’ (a non-profit organization working incessantly for making Delhi an international model city), Anand Sharma, Senior Engineer at Seagate Technology in Colorado, Tejan Thakore, an alumni of California State University working in Texas, Atul Kumar, an alumni of Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Ahmedabad working in New Jersey, Alok Singh, working at Chicago, Avnish Singh, IT professional and entrepreneur and Ritesh Singh (myself), a student of IIT Kharagpur. These friends of Shehla are also trying to revive RTI Leaks (http://getup4change.org/rti), a project which Shehla started with Ritesh, to create a one-stop source for all information retrieved through RTI applications throughout India. They have begun by putting online the most revealing of the information retrieved through Shehla’s RTI applications to put more pressure on the corrupt system. Those posted already show how 12 Judges of the Madhya Pradesh High Court were spending public money lavishly for their own personal purposes (See Madhya Pradesh High Court Judges given undue favours for more information). Shehla was also threatened by the Protocol Officer of the Chief Minister’s house, Mr. Sanjay Chauhan for this expose (See Madhya Pradesh High Court Judges given undue favours for more information).
This group of Shehla’s friends plans to expand the mission by providing a unique service where anybody, who would like to file an RTI application, can approach them, with all the details.
The RTI application would be filed under the group’s name, without exposing the dedicated RTI applicant to corrupt and powerful.
This revolutionary service would empower each citizen of India to ask tough questions without fear or worry, to those in corridors of power.
In closing, I remember the words of Pandit Nehru on 30th January 1948, the day of Mahatma Gandhi’s death:
“The light has gone out of our lives and there is darkness everywhere…
….The light has gone out, I said, and yet I was wrong. For the light that shone in this country was no ordinary light. The light that has illumined this country for these many years will illumine this country for many more years, and a thousand years later, that light will be seen in this country and the world will see it and it will give solace to innumerable hearts. For that light represented something more than the immediate past, it represented the living, the eternal truths, reminding us of the right path, drawing us from error, taking this ancient country to freedom.”
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About the Author
Ritesh Singh was a close friend of Shehla Masood, a fellow RTI activist and a fellow India Against Corruption Co-ordinator (the name of the Anna Hazare’s movement). He had been working with Shehla on Anti-Corruption agenda for nine months before Shela’s Martyrdom. He used to interact with her almost on a daily basis and they have exchanged hundreds of mails. Both of them kept each other regularly updated about how they were fighting corruption and helped each other significantly in publicizing the other’s initiatives and exposing the skeletons falling out due to the other’s initiatives. Although anti-corruption protests was the chief agenda between them, they also worked together extensively on issues like Wildlife Conservation, Environment Conservation and Human Rights. Shehla and Ritesh together undertook actions like coming out on the street on the same day at the same time in their own cities for a common cause, drafting, signing and sending petitions and letters, filing RTI applications for related causes together, etc. For example, when Shehla filed an RTI application asking for Tender process in Madhya Pradesh and found skeletons coming out, she informed Ritesh who then filed another RTI application asking for Tender process in West Bengal and he too found skeletons coming out.
Using the photos sent by Shehla about all that she was doing, Ritesh has made a Movie about her after her death: A Tribute to Shehla Masood. Shehla and Ritesh had also together envisioned the RTI Leaks project a few weeks before Shehla’s Martyrdom. RTI Leaks (http://getup4change.org/rti) was started to create a one-stop source for all information retrieved through RTI applications throughout India. Ritesh has many of Shehla’s very revealing RTI applications with him and is publishing it one by one on RTI Leaks (http://getup4change.org/rti). Those posted already show how 12 Judges of the Madhya Pradesh High Court were spending public money lavishly for their own personal purposes (See Madhya Pradesh High Court Judges given undue favours for more information). Shehla was also threatened by the Protocol Officer of the Chief Minister’s house, Mr. Sanjay Chauhan for this expose (See Madhya Pradesh High Court Judges given undue favours for more information).