Dangerous Knowledge

Can India’s landmark Right to Information Act ever live up to its promise?

01 January 2011
Shashidhar Mishra’s picture garlanded in a niche at his former home in Phulwaria.
Shashidhar Mishra’s picture garlanded in a niche at his former home in Phulwaria.

ON THE EVENING of 12 February 2010, Shashidhar Mishra returned to his village, Phulwaria, after another day spent selling biscuits and sweets on the roads of Begusarai district in northern Bihar. The broken roads in the village were badly lit, but Mishra knew the place so well that the bicycle he dragged, loaded with his wares, lacked a headlight. As Mishra approached the small bylane leading to his house, however, a power cut cast the road into darkness.

Some 200 metres away Mishra’s brother, Mahinder, lit a candle to attend to a final customer at his small grocery shop. A few minutes later, a long-bearded sadhu entered the shop. “I stumbled upon a body outside your house,” the sadhu whispered in his ear. Mahinder bolted from the shop, leaving his customer behind. He ran by his instincts—rushing past a cluster of shops, turning swiftly through the narrow lanes, jumping over an open drain—and arrived at his doorstep to find his brother dead on the ground, blood still seeping from his head.

“It was a pistol shot,” Mahinder told me when I visited Pulwaria in October. The identity of Shashidhar’s killer remains unknown, and Mahinder believes the police have failed to pursue the investigation. Mahinder, a dark-skinned man in his 20s with a stiff face and dense stubble, has little faith the murder will ever be solved—the village’s politicians and pradhans, he told me, have taken no interest in the case. As we spoke, Mahinder’s mother, Sushila Devi, squatted nearby on the floor, leaning against the damp wall of their mud house. At her hip she held Shashidhar’s 14-month-old son, who played with a corrugated key dangling from her neck like an amulet.

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    Mehboob Jeelani  is a former staff writer at The Caravan. He is currently studying for an MA in journalism at Columbia University.

    Keywords: Manmohan Singh UPA sami siva Nitish Kumar Mehboob Jeelani Mani Shankar Aiyar RTI Act United Progressive Alliance Sonia Gandhi Shashidhar Mishra Shiv Prakash Rai RTI Application Subhash Chgandra Agrawal Veerappa Moily Manish Sisodia Aruna Roy AK Choudhary Wajahat Habibullah