A harrowing tale of information seeker

-Ram Bikash Chaudhary-

“Who ordered you to approach here?” Chair of Sambarimai Rural Municipality, Jitendranath Shukla, abused me all of a sudden. I was silent for a while in response to his abrupt and unusual verbal abuse.

I however said to myself: “I am alone at this moment. I look like poor and submissive before him and still silent due to fear.” Wearing artificial smile and gathering will power, I responded to Chair, “I am here to seek information.”

He attempted to slap me, saying, “I do not provide you information, you can do whatever you want- write enough, but save your life if you want to continue writing. Don’t you know I am the don of Gorakhpur?”

However, Chair Shukla lowered his hands only after Chief Administrative Officer, Tukraj Pandey, informed him that I was seeking information, using Right to Information (RTI) law. “We were also talking about this issue. He has no mistake,” Pandey added and requested Shukla to calm down.

Earlier, Chair Shukla caught my hand and kicked me out of his room yelling, “Get lost. Otherwise, I will parcel your dead body to Gorakhpur.” Three persons- two looked like office staff and one service seeker-who were the witnesses, kept quiet and made no reaction.

Without any option at the moment, I just stood motionless for a while at the office. As I stepped towards my motorbike, Chair Shukla continuing abusing and threatening, “I keep this non-entity (journalist) under my feet and want to see him write news about me. He doesn’t care about people’s Chair.”

However, I started motorcycle and went home. I did not share this incident with my family. I could not eat and sleep properly on that day.

I have been writing continuously on good governance, human rights, right to information, accountability and other themes for 12 years without any bias. I did not assassinate anyone’s character nor criticized unnecessarily. I am proud of being honored and getting awards by many national and international organizations for writing about citizen’s voice and concerns.

I am a member of the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), Province 5, and a member of FNJ Rupandehi district chapter for two years. I am also a human rights activist associated with Madhes Human Right House, Kapilvastu, as an officer.

Chair Shukla’s hostility was in reaction to filing of an RTI request. I had filed an RTI application at the Municipality, seeking information related to supply of fuel in the office on 11 June. Later, I reached Sambarimari Municipality office at Jigina at 4 pm on 5 July to know the further process on it.

Although people’s representative Shukla was meting out such gross behaviour to the service seeker, Chief Administrative Officer, Pandey, who had good knowledge of the importance of RTI, requested me to sit in his chamber and we discussed the matter. But at the same time, drunken Chair Shukla barged into the chamber and spoke derogatory words to me and kicked me out from the office.

It was of course the revenge, rage and rancor generated in the Chair after I had exposed cases of irregularities in the same municipality he was heading. I had made news stories related to misuse of government vehicle and formation of local judicial committee against the spirit of the Constitution of Nepal.

For exposing the irregularities, I’ve been getting threats from various offices. Chief Administration Officer at Marchbari Rural Municipality, Shyam Krishna Poudel, also threatened me when I sought information. While making follow up on the application of seeking information, Officer Poudel said, with shrewd smile, on 16 July, “Don’t do anything in hurry and think before doing anything.” Through the RTI application, I had sought the information about the residential quarter, vehicles and fuel used by the Officer Poudel.

Moreover, Ward Chair of Lumbini Sanskritik Municipality also threatened me for seeking information about the plantation on 20 July. Ward Chair made roundabout threat saying, “You also live in this community and we are also here. Please don’t try to trouble us.” The estimated budget allocation for various purposed in the Ward, location of plantation, land value and decision process were the information sought with RTI application.

I’m now feeling insecure and unsafe, but have not lost confidence. If I’m attacked, they are responsible. If additional threats are issued, I will resort to complaining at police office. I’ve however informed about it to the human rights institutions like the National Human Rights Commission.

[Editor’s Note: To a gross unawareness of Right to Information (RTI) among the people’s representatives and their sheer irresponsibility and highhandedness, the information seekers are at the receiving end at the local level. The account of Mr Chaudhary is indeed a harrowing tale that those working for change and good governance and acting as watchdog face continuous hostility and intimidation. Freedom Forum has been closely monitoring this case and has suggested the measures to remain informed of any untoward incident and to continue struggle for RTI campaign. Chaudhary’s RTI campaign is laudable for it helps hold the people’s representatives accountable and create atmosphere conducive at public agencies for transparency and good governance.]