Skip to main content

Reminiscing RTI activist whose murder signalled new authoritarian wave in Odisha

By Bhabani Shankar Nayak* 
Reminiscing the outrageous murder of Right to Information (RTI) activist Ranjan Kumar Das a year ago without doubt signaled new wave of authoritarian onslaught on democratic movements in Odisha. It suggested how the Odisha government failed to protect the lives of RTI activists. Ranjan was murdered near his village Beruan in the Kendrapara district of Odisha on 31st January 2020. Indeed, like his friends, family, fellow RTI activists and acquittances, I am yet to recover from this shocking news. 
In his murder, Kendrapara and Odisha lost a committed activist, and his parents lost their only son. Ranjan’s wife lost her young husband and his four years old son lost his father. It is going to be a year since his murder, but no one is arrested. His killers are still roaming free. Ranjan was killed for his unflagging passion for building a just society based on transparency, accountability and rule of law. 
Over the last two decades, I knew Ranjan as my friend, batchmate and hostel mate during our days in the Utkal University, Bhubaneswar, Odisha from 1999 to 2001. He was with the Department of History and I was in the Department of Political Science but there was an organic bond and mutual love for each other. We belong to the same district and Ranjan was the leading organiser and glue for all Kendrapara Cultural Meets in the university. 
Ranjan displayed his great strength as an organiser. He was a committed friend and fun-loving student with clear heart. He was always there to support friends in crisis. His romantic poems in hostel magazine was very popular among his classmates and batchmates. 
In Ranjan’s eyes, my idiosyncrasies were many, but it did not create any differences in our friendship. He knew how to overcome all ideological and other differences with a wild smile. After completing our post-graduation, we moved in different directions in life in search of livelihoods. Ranjan’s transparent character dragged him to the RTI movement in the state. 
It is not the degrees and qualifications that decides the destinations of life that Ranjan wanted to live and lead by example. Most of our batchmates went on to build their careers after finishing their courses but Ranjan returned to his village to uphold the idealisms of his student life. He has exposed corrupt practices and irregularities of local politicians and government officials with the help of the RTI. 
He filed many RTI applications seeking details of different government schemes, funding and its utilisation. He knew that his life is under threat due to his activism, but he was determined to sacrifice his own life for the cause of people and their democratic right to know. 
His premonition came true and he was killed by the local ruling elites whose interests were under threat due to Ranjan’s committed activism. Ranjan did not know how to surrender before the power and fear death. In a world of superficial friendships, Ranjan was always straight. His humous qualities helped him to tell the bitter truth in the face of people without hurting them. 
But the shameless cowards killed Ranjan in the darkness of night while he was returning home to be with his family. As Ranjan permanently slept in his grave with pride and dignity, his killers are hiding behind the power of the government and living the life of cowardice. 
Ranjan survives within hearts and minds of his friends and family as a caring son and a loving friend. His smiles, sharply witty talks and committed activism can never be killed by all powerful ruling elites of the state. Ranjan has raised his voice against all illegal activities in his area to ensure transparency in local development. 
Ranjan’s character was neither formed in the classrooms nor within the counterfeit cultural narratives in the society. For him, character was his unfettered commitment for his family, friends, state and society. His character was formed by intrinsic understanding of social and political transformation in the society with the help of the RTI Act. He pursued it in letter and spirit to uplift his village, district and the state with the support of RTI led good governance and sustainable development of people and their livelihoods. 
The struggle for further deepening of the RTI Act will be a befitting reply to the killers of Ranjan. The legacies of fun, friendship, family and sacrifice define Ranjan who survives in our hearts and minds as a liberated RTI activist of Odisha. History documents the names of martyrs of social and political movements and Ranjan knew it well as a student of history. 
In the contemporary history of people’s movements in Odisha, Ranjan’s life will be celebrated as a luminous star guiding the Right to Information movement in the state. His sacrifice will be an inspiration for many in building a better society based on transparency, fairness, justice and free from exploitation. 
Ranjan will be mourned by all his friends and family beyond the RTI movement in the state. But his loss is unbearable for his old parents, wife and son. To all of them, I mourn and extend my deepest love, thoughts and solidarity with the struggle for justice. 
---
*University of Glasgow, UK

Comments

TRENDING

Buddhist shrines massively destroyed by Brahmanical rulers in "pre-Islamic" era: Historian DN Jha's survey

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

Labelling a Jesuit a Marxist? It's like saying if you use a plane, you become American

Jesuits: Cedric Prakash, Stan Swamy By Fr Cedric Prakash SJ* A thirteen- fourteen-year-old has many dreams! That's an impressionable age; at the cusp of finishing school. It is also a time when one tastes a different kind of freedom: to go for camps with boys of your own age (not with ones family). Such camps and outings were always enjoyed to the hilt. The ones, however, which still remain etched in my memory are the mission camps to the Jesuit missions in Maharashtra and Gujarat.

Lost to commercialisation, vanity? Ashram awaits 'second assassination' of Gandhiji

Counterview Desk  Around 130 “concerned” citizens, in a statement, have protested against the Government of India and Gujarat government decision to turn Gandhi Ashram into a ‘world-class’ tourist destination spread over 54 acres at the cost of Rs 1,200 crore, which would include a Gandhi Ashram Memorial, an amphitheater, a VIP lounge, shops and a food court, stating it would compromise and trivialize the “sanctity and importance of the present-day Ashram, mainly Hriday Kunj, surrounding buildings, and the museum.”

Tussle between Modi-led BJP govt, Young India 'key to political battle': NAPM

Counterview Desk  In its month-long campaign, civil rights network National Alliance for People’s Movements (NAPM) carried out what it called Young People's Political Persecution and Resistance in “solidarity with all comrades facing political persecution and remembering human rights defender Stan Swamy…”

Govt of India has 'no moral right' to declare national day for Muslim women, Naqvi told

Counterview Desk  In what has been described as a nationwide outpouring of condemnation, following the announcement by Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi, Minister of Minority Affairs, declaring August 1 as ‘Muslim Women’s Rights Day’ to mark the anniversary of the Triple Talaq law, over 650 citizens have said it is nothing but "cynical optics" of using Muslim women’s rights in the face of an "unprecedented" onslaught against the rights of the Muslims in recent years.

Debt bondage, forced labour, sexual abuse in Gujarat's Bt cottonseed farms: Dutch study

By Rajiv Shah  A just-released study, sponsored by a Netherlands-based non-profit, Arisa , “Seeds of Oppression Wage sharecropping in Bt cottonseed production in Gujarat, India”, has said that a new form of bondage, or forced labour, exists in North India’s Bt cottonseed farms, in which bhagiyas, or wage sharecroppers, are employed against advances and are then often required to work for years together “without regular payment of wages.”

Covid: We failed to stop religious, political events, admits Modi-dharmacharya meet

Counterview Desk An email alert sent by one the 11 participants, Prof Salim Engineer, on behalf of the Dharmik Jan Morcha regarding their "religious leaders' online meet" with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, even as offering "support to meet challenges of Corona pandemic", blames religious congregations, though without naming the Maha Kumbh and other religious events, which apparently were instrumental in the spread of the second wave.

Madhya Pradesh Adivasis protest externment notice to Barwani tribal rights leader

By Harsing Jamre, Nasri Bai Ningwal, Prakash Bandod*  Over 2,500 Adivasis mobilized in response to Barwani district administration’s recent move to issue a show cause notice to Valsingh Saste, a prominent Adivasi activist of Jagrit Adivasi Dalit Sangathan (JADS), Madhya Pradesh. For two decades, Valsingh Saste as an activist of JADS has been continuously leading struggles for the constitutional and fundamental rights of Adivasis.

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

Bonded labour a thing of past? Gujarat rural workers are now more aware: Ex-official

By Rajiv Shah  This is sort of rejoinder to my previous story . I was a little surprised on receiving a phone call from a former government official, who retired in 2015, Bipin Bhatt, whom I have known as one of the more socially conscious senior babus of Gujarat. A non-IAS bureaucrat, I first interacted him during my Gandhinagar days, when I used to cover Gujarat Sachivalaya for the Times of India. At that time he was Gujarat’s rural labour commissioner, a post which he occupied between 2004 and 2007. Thereafter I have been in touch with him.