Long pushing for protection of whistle-blowers, Shehla Masood might have made her point most forcefully in death. She had long learned to live with threats to her life, as she revealed in the last interview before she died. Excerpts:
How difficult is it for a whistle-blower to function?
I was threatened by local MLA Vishwas Sarang because I exposed corruption relating to forest produce. He sent me a court notice just to put me under pressure. I exposed Madhya Pradesh CM Shivraj Singh Chauhan’s expenditure on household entertainment which ran into lakhs every month. The money was spent on chaat, sweets, lunches, bouquets, telephone bills and mobile bills. I was threatened by principal information officer (general administrative department) Aruna Gupta. She wrote a letter to the information commissioner saying I had stolen some records and lodged an FIR against me. It was a blatant lie because when she was asked to furnish details of the records stolen from her office, she failed to give anything. She was served with a showcause notice. I was also threatened by the protocol officer of the CM’s house, Sanjay Chauhan, because I exposed how lakhs were spent on sitting judges of the Madhya Pradesh High Court. The money was spent on their stay in luxury hotels and travel. I also drew attention towards the 12 serving judges who were involved in corruption. These judges came to the wedding of the son of principal secretary (law) in December 2010 and the expenses were borne by the state government. I draw strength from these threats. But at the same time, I realise that the government is not serious in protecting whistle-blowers. I believe this is because of political pressure. There is no political will to fight corruption. And I am sorry to say that there is very little unity among the activists as they also have vested interests.
How does one work in this situation?
See, I am being constantly threatened. I was threatened by Pawan Shrivastava (currently IG, police training institute, Indore) in 2008. He is thoroughly corrupt. His proximity with politicians allows him to commit deeds which are immoral and against the law. He is a perpetual law offender. He is close to a few RSS leaders and to the vice-president of BJP’s Madhya Pradesh unit, Anil Dave. I filed an RTI application in 2008 to gather information on the tender process adopted by the cultural department. The day I filed it, Pawan Srivastava called me on my mobile and not only threatened me with dire consequences but also abused me. I have recorded part of his conversation which corroborates my claim. However, that recording and complaints to senior police officers and to Union home minister P. Chidambaram have hardly helped me. I fear for my life. But I will continue working and carry on.
What issues are you fighting for?
I’m fighting for good governance, transparency, police reforms and environmental issues like tiger conservation. I’ve been using the RTI Act since 2005 as a tool to collect evidence. It is the nexus between politicians and babus which is slowly poisoning our country. The fight is between the powerful and weak and I represent the weakest and the poorest of society.