An important source of strength for India’s democracy comes from organisations and individuals who have devoted their life to protecting the rights of the weaker sections. They go from struggle to struggle to make available land to the landless, fight corruption to ensure that development funds reach the poorest, and organise protests to ensure that hospitals and schools properly meet the needs of the poorest sections.
In the process, these social activists and organisations incur the wrath of many vested interests. At the village level, these may include the most powerful persons of the area, who then gang up against the activists and their organisations. Earlier, they attacked such activists more directly. Now a cleverer ploy is to use the name of someone from the weaker sections to lodge false complaints against these activists, and then pay bribes to ensure that these charges are not withdrawn easily. Some activists are attacked; others find their resources depleted by false cases and investigations which can drag on for a long time. Even if the charges are proven entirely false or the cases are withdrawn after a while, during the interim period the registration of the organisation can be cancelled or the permission to obtain donations can be withdrawn.
This is why it is important to create conducive conditions in which such threats are minimised for honest and dedicated social activists. Political leaders keep calling upon the youth to devote more time to national work. It is imperative then that these leaders also come forward to ensure that some protection is available to these youth.
Let’s take a case in point: Raja Bhaiya is a social activist of Banda district (Uttar Pradesh), who decided to devote his life to helping the weaker sections. At a very young age he starting teaching children from the economically weaker sections, and succeeded in starting two schools. Later, when he was able to get resources for working in a more organised way at a larger level, the organisation founded by him ‘Vidyadham Samiti’ grew rapidly and ended up confronting powerful vested interests. Whether it was a matter of fighting corruption or securing the release of bonded workers, or carrying out a campaign against hunger deaths and farmers’ suicides, Vidyadham Samiti was always in the frontline – collecting facts, organising protests, helping the poorest families in various ways.
This annoyed the vested interests and they ganged up to file false complaints and cases against Raja Bhaiya and his organisation. But it is to their credit that they faced the situation with patience and courage. One by one, the inquiries were completed and the complaints against them were found to be false.
These efforts of Vidyadham Samiti were helped by the fact that several senior officials were by now well aware of the conspiracy hatched against this organisation. Several senior social activists had written to the officials regarding this matter, and the officials themselves examined the fieldlevel realities to confirm that the Samiti had indeed done very good work. The Commissioners of the Supreme Court and their advisers in the right to food case had initiated efforts in some vulnerable areas to improve the performance of povertyalleviation programmes. In this work too, Vidyadham Samiti had made a valuable contribution, which was recognised by officials and advisers.
Thus, the help initiated by senior social activists and the understanding attitude of senior officials came to the rescue of these very dedicated social activists at a critical time. Similar efforts are needed when other social activists and organisations are threatened in numerous ways in various parts of the country.
After all, those who devote themselves to protecting the interests of weaker sections also need, and deserve, protection!