Aakhir Desh ko tho Badalna hai !

[Note: This article is not about Telangana. We are publishing this because it is written by an inspiring youngster from Telangana, who left his software job in a top software MNC to pursue his interests.

Rakesh Dubbudu has chosen the Right To Information Act as a tool to bring about a change in this country. With his passionate work and thoughtful RTI petitions, he has become a renowned RTI activist in our state. His petitions have resulted in several ‘front page news’.  He is an inspiration not just to youngsters from Telangana, but from the whole of India. May his tribe increase!]

Aakhir Desh ko tho Badalna hai !

Every experience and every encounter during those days took me closer and closer to reality. A reality where your place as a citizen, whether or not you get your due from the state would depend on how you dress, how you speak, what you know, how much you know, how far can you go and most of all how much you hold in your pocket. Articles 14 to 19 of the constitution sounded like a utopia. Equal rights and privileges for all was just a pipe dream. It did not feel like I was living in 2005. Those were also the early days of Right to Information.

Those were also my early days in the activism space. Days when I was also toying with the idea of attempting the civil services. Most of my Saturdays were spent roaming around various government offices filing RTI applications. I had couple of objectives in mind. One was to understand the government system, the dynamics, the power structure etc. The second was to interact with Babus (higher-ups in the bureaucracy like the IAS) to get a first hand feel of their work. Hindsight it looks like I did the right thing by just going around those offices. All those Saturdays gave me a very good understanding of the system, the power structure and why things remain like they are. Most of all, I realized that there was no point in attempting civil services because I simply did not belong there.

Every Saturday was a new and exciting experience. Either I had a fight with peon outside a Babu’s room or I kept running around the floors of the state secretariat sometimes to find the right person and sometimes to keep explaining people that something like RTI existed. The peons were particularly peeved with me, because I simply refused to stand up and fold hands when their Babu walked in or walked out to celebrate and respect their Babudom. They always used to make me sit far away so that their ‘SIR’ is not offended by this utter lack of respect.

There were days when I would see the worst and I must say it was distressing. It took a whole lot of self motivation to tell myself that things are there to change. One day, I met a freedom fighter in his late seventies roaming around the 5th floor trying to find the right clerk in the Revenue department. I will never forget his story and countless others like his that are as distressing as one would like. This man had every required document with him to be eligible for a Freedom Fighter’s pension and other benefits. The district authorities told him that the file was stuck in the Secretariat. So here he was trying to find out where it was stuck. It was his 7th visit to the same building, but he was still unsuccessful in his mission of finding out ‘THE RIGHT PERSON’ to get his work done. Citizens were allowed to visit the secretariat only between 3pm and 5pm. By the time this man would walk past all those tall buildings in the complex and finally reached the right building, it was already 4pm. And the lift operators would play a hard ball. If you are seen going from floor to floor, they would even refuse to accommodate you since you are seen as someone non serious trying to play the lift game. Some lifts were reserved for ‘Netas and Babus’. And by the time he would reach the so called right person, either it was 4.45pm and the right person left or the right person was not to be found in his place. We were finally able to find the right person and the rest the story is the usual one. How much did this old man have to make sure that the file kept moving from table to table? Fights, arguments and threats of meeting their Babu did yield the required result. But all these travails for something that is guaranteed as your fundamental right as a citizen? My social studies lesson on fundamental rights looked like a farce. I used to believe that young people are just misguided that they fall prey to the so called extremist elements in society and all this glorification/romanticization of the cause was a just a creation of cinema. But more such experiences and am sure many young ones with their blood boiling would fancy having a gun and become a robin hood of sorts. It was not at all a romantic thought. A very practical one indeed.

On another occasion, I met this IAS officer in his late thirties. I used to wait for hours together to meet the ‘Babu’. It was something to do with his department refusing to provide the information sought. He started explaining the problems of ‘Babus’ and how he was the only ‘Good Samaritan’ and how others around him were spoiling the system. Then I asked him if he should still work in that ‘polluted’ environment if his values were being compromised. I got no convincing answers. It was kind of strange for me that almost every Babu I met during that one year repeated the same story as if they were all trained to give the same answer. Every Babu was a ‘Good Samaritan’. But each of those interactions only reinforced my decision of not attempting civil services. I don’t belong there, an environment where you are part of the wrong and are constrained from all sides. All these conversations gave me invaluable lessons in life. Something that no school/university would have taught, not even the Ivy League ones.

Looking back, I sometimes wonder at the things I did. I used to record all my conversations/arguments in my mobile, argue with them tooth and nail. I would refuse to leave their office till they accept my application, till they provided me the information. I would tell them that I would sit outside their office till the cows come home; I used to play the media card and did many such things. To clean the dirt around, there seemed no other way. It seemed rather odd to them for somebody with a backpack and a software job was doing this on a weekend. They did try to create problems at work. One day, a HR representative in the company called me and said “Our sales guys met a senior IAS officer and he was complaining about you. You seem to be filing RTI applications in various departments and are using the company business card, official mail ID and even wearing our t-shirt when you roam around in the secretariat.” I told him in very clear terms that I never used my official mail ID. And as far as the t-shirt was concerned, I was not aware that the T-shirt was to be worn only in office! And it was very clear in my application that it was in my personal capacity as a citizen. I asked him to name that IAS officer and I would take the legal recourse because somebody was trying to infringe on my fundamental rights (the social studies lesson finally came in handy J ). The HR was slightly taken aback with the response. He suddenly calmed down and tried telling me that it was only out of concern for me and my safety. He was clearly worried about the bad PR for the company if the issue blows out of proportion. The very next day, I filed 4 more RTI applications in the secretariat. And I resolved to wear a Government manufactured KHADI shirt whenever I file a RTI application. Let them complain to the chief minister that somebody wearing a KHADI shirt is filing RTI Applications! The HR never bothered me after that.

And whenever people ask me if can file an RTI application online, I would discourage them. Go out, experience the system. There is nothing better that can give the similar kind of the understanding. After many such days of trying to understand what the system was like, I realized that information/knowledge was the only way to reclaim our democratic rights as a citizen. There was no use trying to recount the faults of the system. A democracy will thrive only with informed and vigilant citizenry.

Thus my tryst with Right to Information began. Eight years on and I still enjoy the interactions with the Babus, but this time with no mobile recorder.

Aakhir Desh ko tho Badalna hai.

Rakesh Reddy Dubbudu, RTI Activist

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