To understand the reason why the demand for minimum wages and the subsequent demand for access to records came about, it is important to try and understand the geographical as well as the socio-political setup of the area where the MKSS works. Rajasthan being a desert area, the people are faced more often than not with a drought. During the time that the rains fail, theonly choices that people have to earn a living is to either migrate or work at the famine relief work sites. A famine relief site is basically the work sites that are opened up by the government to provide employment for the people. This could be building a road, digging a well, or desilting ponds/lakes etc. In most of these work sites it is seen that women are there in larger numbers than men. Mentend to migrate in search of livelihoods and the women are left behind to tend the family.
It was seen initially that the laborers at the famine relief sites were not paid their full minimum wage. When they demanded to be paid minimum wages on public works, they were refused on the grounds that "they did not work." When the laborers questioned the authorities, they were told that the proof forthe fact that they did not work lay in the records. The records in question were "measurement books" which were filled by the Junior Engineer. The laborers then demanded to see the records. At this point of time they were told very clearly and in no uncertain terms by the administrators that they could not see the records, because according to the Official Secrets Act (1923), a colonial legacy, allthese records were state secrets and could not be opened up to the public. This infuriated the laborers who then said "till we get access to those records, we will always be told that we don't work and the administration can never be challenged on that account. If we are to prove that what they say is not true we need to get those records!"
It was at this point of time that the movement for the"right to information" began. The need to access records was established and people began to think of ways and means through which they could get the government to give them the "right to know". The modes that were adopted were diverse and the one important aspect was that the people identified totally with the cause. For them it was their battle, a battle for their survival. The struggleillustrated that the right to information was not just a component of people's right to freedom of speech and expression but was also a part of their fundamental right under Article 21 of the Indian Constitution -- the right to life and liberty. The villagers understood and made a large section of enlightened opinion in the country understand that the access to records of development work in villageswould help in obtaining the basic living wage, the entitlement under the ration quota, the medicines the poor should receive in public health centers, preventing abuse by the police, and even in preventing delay and subterfuge in implementation of other livelihood entitlements. And from the understanding of that struggle came about a number of slogans that have been used time and again by the MKSS inits various phases of agitation. Slogans such as "Our money, our account", "the right to know, the right to live", "this government belongs to you and me, its no one's personal property!"
In demanding a law for the "right to information" the people were establishing their desire to be part of the democratic framework in which they would be given a fair hearing and their views would be taken...