Aruna Roy – India

Linked with The Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan MKSS, India, with the National Campaign For People’s Right To Information NCPRI, India, and with The idea of India.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

Through struggles for the right to minimum wages and employment, Aruna Roy (born 1946) united the people of central Rajasthan under the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS). In 1994, the MKSS began the Right to Information movement. What started as a local intervention against corruption now stands as a national movement that has won freedom of information laws in ten states and at the center. The way in which Aruna bridged the interests of the middle class and the impoverished is remarkable. She says: “While the right to information in India is logical, it is conspicuous in its absence in the quotidian workings of the establishment. The sufferers are the impoverished” … (1000peacewomen 1/2).

Aruna Roy is an Indian political and social activist. She served as a civil servant in the Indian Administrative Service from 1968-1975. She is best-known for her campaigns to better the lives of the rural poor in Rajasthan … (full text on wikipedia).  And: Career; Personal Life.

This year’s Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership and International Understanding has been bestowed on J Arputham, President, National Slumdwellers’ Federation and Aruna Roy, Sept. 2000 … (full text).

She is also a Better World Heroe.

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Aruna Roy – India

Watch these videos:

She works for Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan MKSS.

RTI: Aruna Roy for another campaign, to implement the act, 11/3/2008.

RTI Act yet to make impact in villages, say policymakers, Nov. 6, 2008.

She says also: … “Many collectives of the poor people struggling for change gave us the ideas and the commitment to bring about meaningful change. In fact, this has been one of the outstanding lessons of my 25 years of work in rural Rajasthan. I owe my ideas to the clarity of others; my courage to being with people who confront injustice with fearlessness and equanimity; my hope to the persistence and resilience of men and women struggling to get themselves heard; my generosity to the poor family that shared its last roti (bread) with me and my sense of well being to the many who have supported me in difficult moments of my life” … (full interview text).

Desert Storm: Saathin Solidarity, September 11, 2004.

Find her and her publications on Google Book-search; on Google Group-search; on Google Blog-search.

Another Interview With Aruna Roy: Janadesh 2007, by Santosh H K Narayan.

And she says: … “The pity is that there is no accountability in the present system of governance. All human rights depend on the basic right to know, to demand accountability. In India, the feudal social fabric has exploited the formal democratic system to its advantage because the literate are too busy building careers and empires to bother about social inadequacies. That’s why RTI has a widespread appeal for everyone. Every citizen of the state has a fundamental right to say: “You are spending my money. Render me the accounts.” But most people are unaware of this power and suffer as a result their inaction and ignorance” … (full interview text).

Aruna Roy is a recipient of Magsaysay award – valued as the Asian Nobel prize – for community leadership and international understanding. Aruna Roy was an IAS officer until 1974. She resigned from the IAS to join the Social Work and Research Center in Tilonia, Rajasthan, which had been set up by her husband Sanjit Roy. She worked at the SWRC until 1983, then moved to Devdoondri in 1990 and set up the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathana, a group which is a working example of a transparent organization. She is a strong supporter of the movement for Right to Information, which succeeded in getting the Rajasthan Right to Information Bill passed … (full text).

… She is the nagging conscience of Indian democracy. Over 15 years ago, Aruna Roy’s organisation Mazdoor Kisaan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) began to expose corruption of local officials in Devdungri, Rajasthan. The MKSS built a movement that triggered debate for the right to scrutinise official records. Finally, in 2005, her efforts led the Centre to implement the Right to Information Act, which gives citizens access to information, from municipal budgets to records of state purchases. The battle spilled over to 2006, when Parliament tried to amend the Act by excluding file ‘notings’ from its purview – notings are remarks of officials and play a vital role in deciding the future of a project. In retaliation, the feisty activist unleashed protests, email and signature campaigns across the country. She won again … (full text, January 2007).

Finally she says: … “We need to take legislation to the people and policy can’t be framed without the consent of the people. In a democracy no policy can be formed without a public debate. Like the first native American President Evo Morales said: ‘There is the Left, there is the Right and then there are the people.’ SEZs in Rajasthan will be defined by its people. The RTI too was made by the people. Today we will deal with SEZs at many levels by mobilising people” … (full interview text).

… New Delhi: Two days after the Centre backed off on the proposed amendments to the hard won Right to Information Act, including most crucially an amendment to withhold “file notings” from public scrutiny, there is no easing of anxiety among RTI activists, who apprehend a fresh offensive from the Government sooner rather than later. On Saturday, official sources indicated that the amendments had been put on the back burner following Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s intervention. However, RTI activists are wary of these assurances and feel that the Government has put off the fight for another day. Aruna Roy, who is spearheading the campaign against the amendments, told The Hindu : “The amendments have been shelved under public pressure — public pressure of a kind not seen before. There is nobody and no area that the issue does not touch, and you can see it from the people who have been drawn to it — from Narayana Murthy through the Left parties, V.P. Singh, jurists, poor peasants, women activists, performing artists, human rights activists, electoral reform advocates to thousands and thousands of young people. This is not about one voluntary organisation, it is a whole, wide movement. Yet precisely because this is a mass movement, the establishment will hit back. They will hit back because they are losing power, losing control … (full text).

(1000peacewomen 2/2): … Aruna Roy (born 1946) has led a checkered life. The oldest of three siblings, she was born into an extremely progressive family, spending her formative years at the famous culture and dance school, Kalakshetra, run by danseuse Rukmani Devi Arundale, where she picked up her love of textiles, colors, and the arts.

After completing her school, Bachelors and Masters in English from Delhi University, she passed the prestigious Indian Administrative Service (IAS) examination. She became assistant collector in Delhi at 22. She married classmate and friend, Bunker Roy, who decided to work for the development of the rural people in the hot and semi-arid Ajmer district of Rajasthan, where water is a serious problem. In 1972, he set up the Social Work and Research Centre (SWRC) in Tilonia village. With development service becoming a priority in both their lives, the couple decided to forgo having children.

It took seven years of working with the IAS for Aruna to realize that this was not what she wanted to do: in mid-1975 – when India’s democracy went down the tubes for 19 months because of the Emergency imposed by then prime minister Indira Gandhi – Aruna quit government service. She joined the SWRC as assistant director, working with it till 1983 and bringing about radical changes in its functioning. To replace Tilonia’s top-down approach to development, she facilitated the evolution of the concepts of group action and rural women’s leadership.

Aruna played an important role in initiating the feminist movement in Rajasthan. She was one of the key visionaries of the women’s development program run by the government. She trained workers and helped build platforms for poor village women at the grassroots level. One of Aruna’s key strengths has been her ability to look at the larger picture. In 1985, during the concluding Global Women’s Decadal Conference at Kenya, she organized the first Rural Women’s Conference in Rajasthan. It was a path-breaking event and proved that rural women could also think and express what their policies and programs should be.

In 1986, she moved to central Rajasthan with three other friends to work with workers and peasants. In the third year of their stay, Aruna and her colleagues initiated a local people’s land rights movement, which managed to free government land occupied by the feudal landlords for hundreds of years. The struggle had larger symbolism for the people of the village – they were expressing themselves as citizens of the country, and not abject subjects of the landlords.

This was the genesis of the workers’ and peasants’ organization formed later. Through the struggles for the right to minimum wages and employment in a drought-affected area, the people felt the need to come together on one platform. Thus was the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS) formed.

The MKSS initiated the struggle for the right to information and accountability. What started as a local intervention against corruption now stands as a national movement that has helped enforce laws on right to information in 10 states and a Central law on freedom of information, which, with the campaign’s intervention, is now being replaced by a new and better law.

In 1994, the MKSS initiated the Right to Information movement through a series of public hearings. Government officials, from the village to the district and state levels, objected strongly. The MKSS and its supporters agitated for long periods from 1996 onwards. Subsequently, the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information was formed.

The MKSS’s method of using public hearings to expose corruption has been extremely effective. It is a model that is now being used to bring accountability to almost all government schemes in the social sector: the public distribution system, famine works, pensions, and other government-sponsored employment programs.

Aruna has played a very significant role in strategizing and articulating these issues of governance and accountability that are central to the right to information. It was the MKSS’s demand for information that, in its various orders passed on the right to food, the Supreme Court has categorically said that all records relating to food and work-related schemes must be made available to all beneficiaries.

In 2003, the right to information movement was linked to the elections. Election Watch offices were set up in several states, with the support of MKSS and the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information, to make public, as the Supreme Court had ordered, information about the property owned by the candidates, their criminal backgrounds, and their educational qualifications. These groups also kept a vigil on the implementation of the Election Code of Conduct.

Aruna’s work was acknowledged by the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation in 2000. She is currently involved in advocating with the government on the national formulation of an Employment Guarantee Act to give the dispossessed a chance at obtaining livelihood options. Her method of working has been to live with the people in the villages. This keeps her connected with the grassroots bases of the issues she is fighting for.

She believes that her personal role is restricted to helping people identify their own issues, and then taking control of their own lives. Aruna’s vision of collective bargaining with the government has paid off, particularly her emphasis on the need to dialogue with the authorities even in situations of non-cooperation.

Central Rajasthan, the region where MKSS works, is moving towards becoming a corruption-free Panchayati Raj zone. Not only are the corrupt worried about facing public humiliation, there is also an increased respect for the poor. The feudal landlords, government employees, and the elite know that they can no longer run the place like a fiefdom.

The offshoot of this is that Aruna has made many powerful enemies: the political and contractors’ lobbies are constantly bellicose. But her work continues to inspire many people and groups the country over: Parivartan in Delhi and Asha in Lucknow are just two examples.

The most unique feature of Aruna’s leadership is her ability to connect macro and micro issues to fashion a continuum of struggle. Particularly remarkable is the manner in which she has bridged the interests of the middleclass and the poor on the issue of right to information.

Essentially, Aruna has come to symbolize the poor rural people’s struggle in India. The brilliance lies in her idea’s simplicity: that the collective exercise of a right can force the powers-that-be to acquiesce.  (On 1000peacewomen).

links:

People’s Union for Civil Liberties PUCL;

Indian women activists;

Indian activists;

Ramon Magsaysay Award winners;

Torture victims seek justice, October 18, 2008;

the blog: Best buddy;

Third annual RTI convention begins Monday, October 31st, 2008;

Five young women, NGO selected for Sanskriti award, October 23, 2008.

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