Holding government and politicians accountable to save nature gets you killed in India

In a democracy, citizens are supposed to have access to information about what their government is up to, so that the said government and its elected officials can be held to account. In the world’s largest democracy, India, however, the sun has rarely been allowed to shine on the goings on of politicians who “represent” the people, the bureaucracy that is supposed to run the country for the people, and the police and military apparatus that is supposed to protect the people, from threats within and without. This huge democracy took a lumbering step in the right direction in 2005 when the Right To Information or RTI Act – a sunshine law – was passed by parliament to provide a mechanism for the public to find out what was being done in their name, and to hold those in power accountable.

Of course, having laws passed on paper is one thing – actually implementing them is another, especially in India. While the RTI law has definitely provided quite a powerful tool for citizen activists to hold this democracy to account, invoking it can still leave these brave citizens exposed to deadly retribution, which itself can be covered up by the nexus between politicians, bureaucracy, and police. As the environmentalist and RTI activist Amit Jethwa found out this week. He wasn’t the first (and likely won’t be the last, alas) to put his life on the line to exercise this basic right (RTI).

As the reports below indicate, in this case, a local Member of Parliament is a prime suspect in Jethwa’s murder. An MP from the Bharatiya Janata Party, which isn’t exactly known to shy away from violence to achieve its ends. Or from using the state apparatus to both commit violence on some of its citizenry, and to cover it up. I don’t know what the likelihood is that the Gujarat police will bring the murderers to justice, especially when they are so politically well connected. Their track record during and in the aftermath of the 2002 “communal riots” doesn’t inspire much confidence. I just hope that the media continues to keep a spotlight on this murder to bring some justice to this brave young man who martyred himself for the environment. And may his sacrifice inspire more young people in India to push the country towards true democracy.


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