Since 2007, a godman from Budgam boroughs has been actively empowering grassroots by training his tribe as information warriors. But after losing his 12 years of hard work in political alteration of Jammu and Kashmir in August 2019, the man is now restarting his campaign from scratch with a central way.
By Umer Ahmad
MUJHPATHER, Budgam – Sitting on a wooden seat and surrounded by scattered sheets, a faith-healer sporting skullcap and flowing beard is scribing on a white paper as countless eyes are gazing him—as if seeking salvation—in stillness.
His meditative silence is keeping his audience captive inside a crowded room. After done writing an amulet, he tells his followers, “You’ve to just use the old method with new rules.”
As a spiritual leader and “superhero” of Gujjar Community, Peer Sheikh Ghulam Mohi-Ud-Din dedicates Saturdays and Sundays every week to get his tribe’s work done through RTIs.
Over the years, he has raised a cadre of about 20,000 “information warriors” and earned a unique name for himself: RTI-Amulet Peer.
His grass-root information campaign helped Budgam in central Kashmir to become a “RTI district”, where hundreds of activists brought the information to the public getting benefited from government schemes.
But since the abrogation of the Article 370, Mohi-Ud-Din’s cadre is not able to file RTIs, as they remain oblivious of new rules.
The faith-healer is now training all the activists again and teaching them how to file RTIs under the Central RTI (Right to Information) Act 2005—he terms less powerful than the abolished Jammu and Kashmir Right to Information Act 2009.
Before August 5, 2019, the information peer would write a J&K RTI amulet to his adherents. But after the scrapping of the Article 370 and subsequent nullifying of the other laws including the JK RTI Act 2009, he saw his years of hard labour getting wasted to his chagrin.
“Almost 80 per cent RTI work has stopped now,” Peer Mohi-Ud-Din sighs inside his room where he attends people every weekend.
“When we file RTI in any government offices now, they don’t respond to common man’s applications, because they know that the Information Commission in Kashmir is dysfunctional, and people cannot take a further step.”
Only those people can file RTI and get the information who have really good command over the Central RTI Act and other tactics of getting the information from government offices, he says.
“J&K RTI Act was more efficient than Central RTI Act,” the faith-healer reiterates, “because government officials were bound to provide information with a fixed time period under it.”
One of the justifications given behind the abrogation of Article 370 was to make Jammu and Kashmir a corruption-free state.
“But if New Delhi really wanted to end corruption in Jammu and Kashmir,” the faith-healer says, “this act (J&K RTI) should not have been removed, as it was doing a fantastic job by empowering masses in the valley.”
Earlier, an activist in the faith-healer was born when he saw his tribe getting ignored in government offices.
“To get a ration card or other basic papers done, they had to visit the government offices for months and months,” the faith-healer says.
Anxious about this step-motherly treatment, people started visiting Mohi-ud-Din and ask him for amulets so that the officer-in-charge would listen to them and get their work done.
“I was feeling helpless as I knew that my amulets wouldn’t strike a sweeping change around,” the faith-healer says. “So, I thought that there must be something which could be used to help my tribe.”
In 2007, Mohi-Ud-Din sensed the opportunity when he heard about RTI Act. His curt meeting with the foremost RTI activist of the valley, Sheikh Ghulam Rasool, helped his tribe’s cause.
“As I started giving RTI applications as amulets,” the faith healer says, “I started feeling relieved by empowering people.”
His huge following only helped his information cause. People visited him in droves to get benefitted from his “new magic amulet”.
“But since most of the tribal people aren’t educated, it was a bit difficult to teach them how to file and use RTI,” he recounts his journey. “I told them to send a few educated people from each area, so that I can teach them how to use this Act for their welfare.”
This engagement, he adds, proved to be a grassroot game-changer.
“After people started filling RTIs, we suddenly saw a lot of developmental work taking place in our area,” he says.
To upgrade his proficiency as an RTI activist, Mohi-ud-Din participated in many workshops across India, where his work was immensely appreciated.
“In 2014, Transparency International awarded me for my RTI contribution,” the faith-healer, who’s now vice chairperson of the J&K RTI Movement in the valley, says. “It encouraged more people like me to serve the people in a better way.”
Today, even the activist who changed his life is full of praises for the faith-healer.
“Peer sahib had strengthened the RTI movement at the grassroots in Budgam,” Sheikh Ghulam Rasool, Chairman, J&K RTI Movement, told Kashmir Observer.
“He formed a huge number of RTI activists in his home district and empowered his tribe. If someone really deserves credit for using RTI in Budgam, it has to be Peer sahib.”
Seeing his active involvement and enthusiasm for public welfare, the faith-healer’s followers insisted him to take part in Panchayat polls.
He couldn’t turn down the request, and today, the Information Peer is also a Samaritan Sarpanch of his village.
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