Thursday, August 18, 2011

Woman RTI activist shot dead in Bhopal

by Mahim Pratap Singh The Hindu

A prominent Right to Information activist and supporter of social activist
Anna Hazare's anti-corruption campaign was shot dead outside her residence
in Bhopal on Tuesday morning.

Shehla Masood was shot dead by an unidentified assailant outside her house
in the city's posh Koh-e-Fiza locality as she was on her way to an
anti-corruption campaign being organised by her and other activists in
support of Mr. Anna Hazare at the Bhopal Boat Club.

“We have registered it as a case of unnatural death. Anything more can be
said only after the postmortem report,” Bhopal Senior Superintendent of
Police Adarsh Katiyar told The Hindu.

Bhopal, not used to the professionally executed metro-style shootout, was
stunned at the activist's death. “I am shocked. We had planned a proactive
campaign where people would have been asked to write, on a 200-foot-wide
banner, about the most corrupt government departments and officers in
Madhya Pradesh,” Ajay Dube, RTI activist and long-time associate of Ms.
Masood told The Hindu.

Ms. Masood, who also ran an event management company, had managed to
constantly annoy the powers that be with her incisive RTI queries and
public campaigns, mostly against corruption and for wildlife conservation.
She was also a freelance journalist, contributing regularly to news
website on issues related to the environment and tiger

Last year, Ms. Masood had told the authorities she “feared for her life”
from a senior officer of the Indian Police Service and had complained
about the matter to two successive police chiefs of the State.

Ms. Masood had written to the current Madhya Pradesh Director-General of
Police S.K. Raut, complaining against a particular officer.

In the letter, Ms. Masood had accused him of harassing her and making
threatening calls to her, about which she had lodged a complaint at the
city's Maharana Pratap Nagar Police Station in 2008.

“I fear for my life from [him]. Please do the needful and oblige,” she had
urged the DGP.

The officer concerned, whose name The Hindu is withholding, did not answer
calls or reply to text messages seeking his clarification on the matter.
However, Bhopal IG Shailendra Shrivastava told The Hindu: “Yes, there was
a complaint against the said officer. We sent Ms. Masood several notices
offering probes at the thana level, additional SP level and DIG level, all
of which she refused. Finally, I requested her to give me her statement.
But she said she had filed a case against the said officer in Lokayukta
and that she would give me a statement only once the Lokayukta probe was

Like other RTI activists across India who have paid the ultimate price for
making persistent and uncomfortable queries, Ms. Masood's efforts may well
have put her in harm's way.

She was planning to file a Public Interest Litigation petition against a
private college based on recent media reports. “It is a very powerful
group of people, including local political leaders, that I will be up
against once I file this PIL. I know who they are but I can't speak out
much as I am still collecting information,” Ms. Masood had confessed,
speaking to this correspondent last week.

Ms. Masood was also an active tiger conservationist and environmental
crusader, constantly digging up information on the poaching mafia, illegal
diamond mining mafia, timber mafia and the hospitality industry, which she
said was violating environmental laws.

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