Right to know

Published: August 8, 2016 - 17:17 Updated: August 8, 2016 - 17:18

Nagma Parveen, a Lucknow student, first saw the acronym RTI mentioned in a newspaper. She did not know what it meant. When she continued to see reports about the right to information (RTI) in the print media, she got curious. She asked her friend Rubeena Bano if she had any idea about the RTI. Rubeena replied, that she did not know anything about it. So together, the two friends decided to find out more about the RTI.

They took to the street asking citizens, including auto-rickshaw drivers, shop keepers and pedestrians about the RTI. Since both the girls are linked to the film unit of Sanatkada (a local NGO), they took a microphone and a cameraman with them.

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“We were surprised that the people we met in the city were as ignorant about the RTI as us,” said Rubeena.

It may be recalled that the RTI was passed by Parliament in 2005 as a fundamental right of citizens to request information from the government. The government is required to reply immediately or within thirty days.

At the end of the day, the girls did not get the information they were looking for but they did have a film in hand showing them walking around Lucknow trying to find people who could tell them more about the RTI. The mission was to find answers to questions like what is RTI? Do people in neighbourhoods other than their own know about the RTI? If they do, have they made use of the Act? What kind of questions are citizens allowed to ask of the government? How does the Act help women?

The film footage was later shown to Madhavi Kuckreja, founder Sanatkada.

Madhavi works with women from local neighbourhoods who first learn, and then talk to other women unaware of various government schemes that can benefit them. She facilitates women to support each other in every possible way, to enroll for higher studies, to open bank accounts, get identity cards and ration cards. Those looking for jobs are provided career counseling as well.

Madhavi thought that cinema is such a great way to talk about the relevance of RTI, especially to the life of women not fluent in reading and writing.

She shared this first footage of the film with Dr. Farah Usmani, friend of Sanatkada and head, United Nations Population Fund ( UNFPA), New York. Farah is passionate about the rights of women and girls. For nearly three decades she has focused on researching and delivering medical services to women and girls in Uttar Pradesh, and internationally. Hers is a cumulative experience in policy, planning, programming for women and girls at global, regional, national and sub-national levels including with public sector, bilateral donor programmes and the United Nations.

“I was delighted to join this group of girls wanting to make a film on RTI and its benefits especially to women,” Farah said at a recent screening of the same film at the conference hall of the newly built RTI Bhawan in Lucknow. It is important according to her for citizens to get the government to share information for the sake of transparency and accountability.

After an exchange of numerous emails and Skype talks, Sabka Adhikar, a 20 minute documentary on the RTI finally saw the light of day last month. The idea is to screen the film before an even more diverse audience and to raise awareness amongst viewers about the policy, provisions, and the process by which citizens can benefit from the Act.

Farah directed the girls to meet the right people in civil society and in government to talk about the Act on screen. The people included Jawed Usmani, Chief Information Commissioner, Uttar Pradesh to the public information officers, the most important link between the government and citizens.There is Askari Naqvi, city lawyer who admits that even after a decade, most people have no idea that this Act gives them the right to request information from
the government.

Members of local NGOs tell the film makers how their work became easy after they found out how the Act works. There are more interviews including one with a student who uses the RTI to find out why she did not receive her scholarship? Now she is happy. She provided the missing document in her application form and her scholarship is released enabling her to continue her studies. The Act is truly a boon and more needs to be done to spread awareness about its benefits.  

This story is from print issue of HardNews