Transparency activist fights social boycott in Himachal

Tissa (Himachal Pradesh): When a right to information (RTI) activist in Himachal Pradesh exposed misuse of public funds some years back, he did not expect that his fight for truth would expose him and his family to threats and social boycott.

Manjur Mohammed, 26, who hails from remote Naila village in the Muslim-dominated Kalhel panchayat of Tissa block of Chamba district, has been facing the wrath of his fellow villagers.

“I accessed information through RTI a list of beneficiaries of state government’s Mukhya Mantri Kanyadaan Yojna in the Kalhel panchayat. The information revealed that 13 out of total 19 beneficiaries were bogus,” Manjur, who was recently honoured under the central government’s scheme to recognise individual RTI efforts, told IANS.

He said all the illegal beneficiaries were related to local panchayat functionaries, who allegedly bent the rules in 2008 to divert the grant meant for poor widows for marrying off their daughters.

The government gives a one-time marriage grant of Rs.25,000 to widows under the scheme.

“Five beneficiaries got the grant for the marriage of their daughters, who were minor at that time,” Manjur said.

He said most of the illegal beneficiaries and the panchayat functionary belonged to the same community.

“I and my family have been facing the wrath of our own community for raising the issue. The entire fraternity has socially boycotted us. We are getting threatening calls. Nobody is talking to us what to talk about participating in community celebrations,” the RTI activist said.

He said some of the functionaries of the Kalhel panchayat were behaving like members if a kangaroo court.

“They issued diktats to impose social boycott of the family and also threatened that a fine would be imposed whosoever defied the diktat,” added Manjur.

The panchayat in Kalhel, around 475 km from state capital Shimla, has a population of around 3,000, including 400 Muslims, according to the 2011 Census.

Acting on the revelations of the RTI activist, police registered a case against Bashir Mohammed, up-pardhan or vice president of the panchayat, and 13 others last year.

Manjur through RTI has also exposed misuse of funds by the panchayat meant for calamity relief and construction of houses under the ‘Harijan Basti Sudhar Yojna’.

State Chief Information Commissioner Bhim Sen, who honoured Manjur along with three other RTI activists at a function in Shimla, told IANS: “Manjur has been facing social boycott. This is a unique case in the history of RTI act that the community has boycotted an individual who has brought to light the fraud.”

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