Since her 2015 divorce, Reena, a 35-year-old mother of three living in the slums of Dakshinpuri, Delhi, has been trying to make ends meet working as a maid. For her kids enrolled in a government school, a scheduled caste certificate is the key to schemes like scholarships, subsidised uniforms and schoolbooks. However, in the absence of a father, whose caste traditionally determines that of his children in most of India, Reena’s circumstances have trapped her in a vicious cycle. “The school authorities keep asking for my kids’ caste certificates. I filed an RTI on June 17, 2016 asking about the procedure of applying for a caste certificate in the absence of a father, and I am still waiting for an answer. Every time I go to their office, they tell me there’s something missing in the form, or ask me to go find out their father’s caste. It’s been nearly three years and I haven’t received a single response,” she says. The 2017 annual report of the Central Information Commission of India states that four out of every ten RTI requests are rejected on unknown grounds.
With the help of Satark Nagrik Sangathan, an NGO helping people in Delhi’s slums access information and file RTIs, Reena successfully invoked the act, only to be left in the lurch with multiple follow-ups and unsuccessful appeals. Finally, the Central Information Commission issued an order, dated ‘30. 08. 2018’, directing that the required information be furnished “within four weeks of the receipt of this order”. Reena remains patient as the timer ticks.