Sunday, February 24, 2008

RTI Act: The brahmaastra!

Happenings in the world of fine arts seldom make news, except for some sale of a Husain here or a Souza there, at an astronomical price. Well, this is a different sort of story. Sir JJ School of Arts, a venerable 150-year-old institution, presents a picture of neglected sleepy heritage, in stark contrast to the bustling crowds of Mumbai’s Crawford market. An occasional tourist ventures inside the campus to gape at the bungalow, where was born Rudyard Kipling, the creator of ‘Jungle Book’ and the one who gave currency to the expression, the ‘White Man’s Burden’. The dowdy institution was shaken up recently, by one of its former students, Vidya Vaidya. Today, apart from being an artist, she is also an activist with CitiSpace, an NGO that fights to protect and reclaim Mumbai’s vanishing open spaces. As an earlier insider, she knew that heaps of art works of former students must be lying on the school premises. The said students had become big names and these missing works of theirs had not had any public exposure. Her efforts with the School met with indifference and reluctance. Finally, she filed an RTI application asking for a catalogue of all the works lying on the school’s premises. The RTI Act notwithstanding, the authorities dilly-dallied. Her tenacious follow-up bore results and hundreds of great works of art, lying neglected and gathering dust, finally surfaced. This caused a stir among lovers of art and heritage. In short, after painstaking archiving and restoration, an exhibition of 300 lost works will be held, to coincide with the 150th anniversary celebration of the Sir JJ School of Arts. Some of these are more than 100 years old! A great achievement!

This shows that the Right to Information Act 2005, has given you and I a potent weapon to transform our country, even in the field of art! This one simple tool can bring about transparency, accountability and reduce corruption, in nearly all areas of governance – from central to state governments to municipal bodies.

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