Remembering Shehla Masood, the Woman with Conviction and Courage

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat,

Shehla Masood became the latest victim of the corrupt Indian system which is unable to defend those who are trying to expose the corrupted. On August 16th, she fell to the bullets of an unidentified assailant near her house in Bhopal. The police in Bhopal are on a hunt to nab the killers but have not been able to do so. We do not know whether they would be able to do so or not as the perpetrators of this ghastly crime may have their access to high and mighty.

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I came to know Shehla several years back and developed an instant rapport with her as she was very keen to do things. She asked me to contribute for her blog ‘Miracles’. She was a curious student to know new things and wanted to do things differently. She has been interested to build a strong organization for wild life and actually discussed with me in April. She shared her frustration also particularly when the state authorities never took action against the police officer she complained about. She wrote a letter to home ministry about the said officer and there was no response from the ministry, she said.

Though she ran a company yet her intentions were to build up an international organization for wild life. She called me and we met in Delhi to discuss things further to do our work. She was very happy to inform me that she had now shifted to Delhi and that we would be able to work together. Unfortunately, April and May had been quite engaged tour for me and we spoke once after that when she was in Bhopal.

I saw Shehla as a dynamic woman and a role model. In a country where there is a dearth of such strong personalities, I felt she was not utilizing her worth and could really be a source of inspiration of thousands of women in the country in general and Muslim women in particular. And we spoke passionately how Muslim women should be united and organized in their struggle. She had desired to organize something for them in Bhopal. She felt that political interventions are necessary for the empowerment of women and that they must get reservation in Parliament and Assemblies.

Last time when we met in Delhi, she was a bit hurt and displayed a sense of betrayal from her erstwhile colleagues. She felt that some of them were using the information collected under RTI to strike a deal. She was very disturbed with it.

When I met her in Bhopal to discuss things which we could work together, she was very eager yet I found something was missing. The problem I felt was that she lacked some of the friends who had same passion as she had. She realized that some of the friends might be using her and may be leaking some of the information. We all know that she was living in Madhya Pradesh and had to depend a lot on the people who might not have liked her ideological positions or efforts to nail those who were close to power. That was actually her frustration when we met in Delhi and she asked me to do something together particularly on the issues of wild life and forest conversation.

She was all appreciation for the then environment minister Jai Ram Ramesh and often talked about her meeting with him related to Bandavgarh Tiger range about which she complained to Ministry of Environment and Forest.

Shehla became fifth victim of the mafias who are afraid of getting exposed. But at the same point of time, her brutal murder also reflects how much threat we face in the streets if we raise the issue of corruption in public life and on particular individual issues. Her death also shows how individual activists face threat to life and need to be more careful. There is a growing temptation for media coverage in the individual cases which has made the lives of activists threatening. These issues need the getting of like minded individuals who do not compete with each other for publicity but compliment the work and also keep each other updated about their activities and complains so that in case of difficult time they can be supported. We know that work on human rights is very tough and each of the human rights activist need protection for their life. While we demand protection from the government, we also know that such theoretical formulas do not solve the issue as a society which is deep nick in corruption cannot protect individuals fighting against corruption. Therefore we need to be more vigilant and work together.

The tragedy of the RTI is that every individual is filing cases and publicizing them and before things are taken to a conclusion he or she become the victim of it. Local media blow issue out of proportion and make the lives of these individuals more dangerous. Therefore, it is essential for all those who are fighting against this to address the issue in broader term and not become a kind of ‘tu-tu main main’. The individual fight would always result in chaos and make life of the complainants more vulnerable.

Shehla was bold and daring. She wanted to do things differently. She had passion. And she wanted to do things. I am extremely disturbed and pained at her untimely death. We wanted to do things together and I was more than happy when she said that she was shifting to Delhi. I felt, I will have a friend who is daring to fight against system and have new ideas. Alas, that was not to be. The brutal murder of Shehla has taken her away from us but the ideas always remain. She will always remain a shining star, a woman who fought passionately and with great courage. She will remain a role model for many. Those who killed her must understand that by killing a person they cannot kill the ideas, they cannot kill the power of people. Shehla had dream. Dream of a society where men and women are equal and in complete harmony with nature. She dared to do things differently and I can say she became immortal in her death. We salute the spirit Shehla and hope that youngsters who dream for the society will take some lesson from her life.

At the end, I am demanding a thorough investigation into the probe of Shehla Masood. The perpetrators must be brought to the books. Madhya Pradesh government should form a special task force to investigate the matter or if they are unable to find anything must hand over the inquiry to CBI. The role of the officials against whom she filed cases must be investigated. These officials include forest and police department. Maybe, the information could be gathered from office in Bhopal and the colleagues who were working with her on RTI. While I deeply moan her death, I hope the real tribute to Shehla would be when the people who she filed complaint against, goes to bar and face the court. It is time that the government must ensure protection to the activists. It is equally important for the activists too to take enough precaution in their battle against the corrupt. There is no place for a Dharna or protest. There are no TV cameras. There are no newspapers when you are vulnerable. The tragedy is that you become news only after death. The issue raised by Shehla could have been used by media but it did not do that. Today, she has herself become news. That is the biggest irony of people who work for the rights of others. They bring out news but that is rarely used by the media. They become news once they are killed. It would be advisable to all our friends to please take care of yourself and work in unison with others and share your information with friends and organization. We do not want to lose you dear friends. Each life is important and lives of those who live for others are more precious. That is what I would speak to each one of them. The loss of Shehla is tremendous and will be felt by all of us in the coming days. Let us hope that her sacrifice is honored by the government once it is able to reach the culprit and provide her justice.

(Vidya Bhushan Rawat is a senior Human Rights’ Activist and heads Social Development Foundation. He can be contacted at [email protected])