From ‘Tent Nazir’ to ‘RTI Nazir’: Towards governance accountability in Kashmir, India
On a 10-day visit to Kashmir, my colleague Shrishtee Bajpai and I met up with an inspiring young person, Nazir Lone, in Shunglipura village, near Khag town.
Over sips of the area’s ubiquitous ‘nun chai’ (salt tea) into which one dips the baked ‘nan’ roti for a delicious snack, Nazir told us his incredible life story.
He had a tent business till a few years back, when a meeting with the RTI activist Shaikh Ghulam Rasool (our host during the visit) motivated him to turn to filing applications for information on a number of issues facing his community. He also told Shaikh that he often had to give tents out for free to families who had lost a member in accidents caused by unexploded shells that were strewn around the area, the unintended but deadly collateral damage of an army firing range that had been targeting the Tosa Maidan landscape of Himalayan meadows and forests for several decades. Helped by Shaikh, Nazir filed an application for information on the range, including its lease period.
Eventually this and other actions by the community led to the range not being given an extension of lease, an amazing example of a successful non-violent struggle in an intense conflict zone. Nazir has been the Coordinator of the Tosamaidan Bachao Front since then. But the story of Tosa Maidan is to be told separately (meanwhile, see http://www.vikalpsangam.org/article/tosamaidan-liberation-conservation-struggle-a-successful-struggle-of-non-violent-democratic-means-in-kashmir/#.XResZi2B1E4), this blog is about Nazir.
Diving deep into RTI activism, Nazir had to abandon his tent business. He tried a kirana (groceries) shop for a while, then gave that up also as his material kept getting expired! Meanwhile he was spending whatever little money he had, on his activism. This has included helping individuals from local communities get the information they required for seeking justice (denial of ration, wrongful transfers, fraud employment records, bribes), or in community issues (fake plantation records, the firing range, teacher appointment and presence in schools, missing medicines or facilities at public health clinics). He even had to face personal clashes with the rest of his extended family who did not appreciate his activism.
Today Nazir commissions or makes shawls and sells them in Delhi, and does other odd jobs, to stay economically afloat. But his passion for making the system accountable, through the dogged use of the RTI Act, takes up much of his time. So far he has filed over 200 applications, and there is no record of how many people have benefited. He has faced pressure and threats, even an attack (see https://www.greaterkashmir.com/news/kashmir/rti-movement-condemns-attack-on-activist-in-khag/), but is not deterred one bit.
A decade back, he could be found by asking for ‘Tent Nazir’; today, he is better known as ‘RTI Nazir’.
It is people like him, driven by a passion to make the system work for people rather than the other way round, that continue to provide hope for transformation.
See also, Nazir talking to us at: https://youtu.be/Aw5xCT1XYgU
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