RTI Amulet

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A carpenter, faith-healer healer has a huge crowd of people on weekends. But some of them return home without amulets, reports Umar Mukhtar

It was 2016 summer.  Abdul Majeed a resident Budgam hamlet had failed in getting his IAY case sanctioned. The Indra Awaas Yojana (IAY) is a flagship programme of Government of India that provides housing support to the rural poor. Then, somebody suggested Majeed to visit a faith healer in Mujipathri woods.

Next day Majeed was in attendance of the faith healer. Surprised, the faith healer asked him to file an application under RTI.

Ghulam Mohiuddin Sheikh, 45, the faith healer is a professional carpenter. On weekends he is the Pir, the faith healer, in his locality. He writes amulets and blows healing breath to his followers. In between, Sheikh is a right to information (RTI) activist, who helps people, get around day-to-day hurdles, especially in government offices by writing on their behalf.

People from different localities throng Sheikh’s home on the weekends with different problems which he describes as ‘maamlaat.’ They get the amulets and other tabarukaat which are believed to ease out the problems for them.

But some people turn to Sheikh’s residence with other issues like someone’s file is stuck at a government office or some government official is not registering their name in any list. Sheikh is of the opinion that such issues cannot be done just writing the amulets. These issues need to deal with ‘rationale and pragmatic’ approach, he said.

To address such problems Sheikh educates visiting hoards of people about the RTI. He insists them to file an RTI to get such problems addressed rather taking amulets. “An amulet possibly cannot be helpful where we need to have a different approach to address a problem,” Sheikh says.

Near about 500 people visit Sheikh’s home at the weekends. Most of the people return with amulets and other tabarukaat. But the people who come with the administrative problems get an RTI rather than an amulet.

For becoming an RTI activist, Sheikh credits Dr Ghulam Rasool, an RTI activist-the founder of the Jammu and Kashmir RTI Movement. Rasool with a team of only 12 members including Sheikh Ghulam Mohiuddin had started the movement back in 2006.

Rasool has explained the law bit by bit to his team and made them understand how RTI can be an effective tool for making the governance structure accountable. “Rasool taught us how to file an RTI like a kindergarten student,” says Sheikh.

Rasool made him understand how RTI activism exposes corruption and is beneficial for the people. “He asked me to join the RTI Movement to help my followers to expose corruption in the district.”

Finally, Sheikh participated in Rasool’s training workshops to become an RTI activist. Since then he has educated and trained many others on when and how to file RTI applications.

Sheikh said that he trains around 30 RTI activists every week in his area. “I have trained more than 10000 people since 2006 in my area. People here are now quite aware of the law and do not let anyone usurp their rights,” Sheikh said.

In 2009, newspapers carried details of an RTI response on its front pages. It was about the expenditure booked by the then chief minister on his chopper rides. The man behind that application, Sheikh said, was his disciple.

Sheikh’s activism shot him to fame in his belt. In 2011 people compelled him to represent them in Panchayat polls. Since then, he is Sarpanch of the Mujipathri belt.

Sheikh also talks about the challenges in the way, he treads. He believes that if any person is really keen to help the people, he then has to prove himself. Sheikh believes that to be an RTI activist, one has to stand firm against all odds and has to be honest.

Sheikh recounts how he was once bribed when he filed an RTI query in the office of a Block Development Officer (BDO), seeking details of IAY beneficiaries in the district.

Days after he filed the RTI, a man came to meet him at his residence with a Rs 25,000 bank cheque. He offered him a bribe for withdrawing the application. But Sheikh refused to pull back and insisted them to give the details of the scheme. A few days later, he got a reply to his application and found that government officials and people close to politicians were on the list of IAY beneficiaries.

The list was then cancelled and only deserving beneficiaries got IAY cheques. This achievement gave him the confidence and he became more resilient.

Sheikh with his activism had helped many people to get their work done. The area has seen a lot of development because of him.

Mujipathri village stands witness to the feats and works Sheikh has done for the people. All the roads are blacktopped and the village paths are concrete.

They once put the lid off a scandal in the social welfare department.

Once a widow came to Sheikh and asked him for an amulet. She was not getting the monthly grant from the Social Welfare Department. Sheikh rather giving her the amulet filed an RTI on her behalf.

Some days later, when the reply came, they came to know that many unmarried women were listed as beneficiaries of a fund meant for aged people and widows. He then took the issue to the authorities and the deserving, including the widow, got her due benefit.

Sheikh believes that helping people and motivating them to stand up for their own rights makes him a ‘happy man.’ ‘God help those who help themselves,’ is what carpenter is successfully implementing for all these years.

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