Here is the heart wrenching story of a double tragedy in the home of a Right to Information (RTI) activist in Bihar.
• 24 September 2021: Bipin Agarwal, a resident of Motihari town of East Champaran district of Bihar was shot dead in broad daylight on a busy road, by two assailants astride a motorcycle.
• 27 March 2022: Rohit Agarwal, the 14 year old son of Bipin Agarwal allegedly committed suicide due to delay in the investigation of his father’s murder.
When his 14 year old grandson, Rohit spearheaded an agitation for justice for his father, Vijay Agarwal was proud. However, the pride was short-lived. He alleges that his grandson Rohit was ill-treated in the office of the superintendent of police at Motihari because of which he impulsively ran up the terrace of their house and committed suicide by setting himself on fire.
Shocked by this incident and alleged indifference of law enforcing authorities to punish the culprits, noted activists from across the country, have demanded from Nitish Kumar, Bihar’s chief minister, the immediate setting up of an inquiry commission headed by a retired judge.
They state in the letter: “The murder of Bipin and the death of his son Rohit points to the abject failure of the state machinery in protecting whistle-blowers and their families. The role of the police and administration needs to be investigated and accountability needs to be fixed for the failure to firstly protect Bipin Agarwal and after his death, to investigate and prosecute the main accused in a time-bound manner. Instead of assisting the family in their quest for justice, the apathy of the state has resulted in the death of Rohit. The incidents of attacks and killings of RTI users has been continuing unabated with impunity in Bihar.’’
Anjali Bharadwaj, one of the petitioners to Nitish Kumar states: “After Bipin’s murder, the family had been struggling for justice and his eldest son Rohit was trying to get the police to take action against all those involved in the murder. As per a video put out by Rohit’s grandfather, on 24 March 2022, Rohit had gone to the police station to submit a memorandum seeking arrest of the main accused and he allegedly waited there for several hours to try and meet senior officials.”
“Anguished at the lack of police action in arresting the main accused, he reportedly died by suicide by setting himself on fire and jumping off the roof of a multi storey building. According to the grandfather, the police was pressurising the family to say that Rohit took the drastic step due to some personal reasons,” she says.
The letter signed on behalf of the National Campaign for Peoples’ Right to Information (NCPRI) includes RTI activists Anjali Bhardwaj, Nikhil Dey, Venkatesh Nayak, Pankti Jog, Dr Shaikh, Pradip Pradhan, Rakesh Dubbudu, Ashish Ranjan, Shailesh Gandhi, Amrita Johri, Kathyayini Chamraj, Vipul Mudgal, Bhaskar Prabhu, Ajay Jangid, Karuna M., Chakradhar, Abey George, Rolly Shivhare and Ashok Kumar.
The NCPRI demands that an inquiry be set up under a retired judge and the role of the police and officials be properly inquired into in the matter of the murder of RTI activist Bipin Agarwal and the subsequent death of his 14-year old son Rohit by suicide. Further, they have appealed for the family to immediately be provided appropriate compensation.
The activists have also urged the government of Bihar to provide protection to whistle blowers by adopting a state level whistle blowers protection law.
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(Vinita Deshmukh is consulting editor of Moneylife and also the convener of the Pune Metro Jagruti Abhiyaan. She is the recipient of prestigious awards like the Statesman Award for Rural Reporting, which she won twice in 1998 and 2005 and the Chameli Devi Jain award for outstanding media person for her investigation series on Dow Chemicals. She co-authored the book “To The Last Bullet - The Inspiring Story of A Braveheart - Ashok Kamte” with Vinita Kamte and is the author of “The Mighty Fall”.)