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  • Bhavya Kapoor

Aruna Roy: An Unsung Hero


Indian women have faced the curse of society and their ritualistic propaganda. Nevertheless, women have now broken the society's thought that a woman can not only be a good homemaker but also excel professionally. Indian women have performed numerous social activities and reforms for the betterment of others, which have led them to become an example for other women living in the society. Among them, Aruna Roy has made her place.


Aruna Roy is an Indian social activist, professor, union organizer and former civil servant. She is the president of the National Federation of Indian Women (NFIW), the women's wing of the Communist Party of India. She is also the founder of the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), a People’s Organization and part of the growing non-party political process in India.


Aruna Roy was born on 6 June 1946, in Chennai, Tamil Nadu, in a family of Tamil Brahmins, to parents Hema and E. D. Jayaram. She was the eldest of her siblings, which included her two sisters and a brother. Aruna Roy initially served as a teacher and later decided to become a civil servant. She cleared the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) examination in 1967. She served as a civil servant in the IAS from 1968 to 1974. She then resigned to dedicate her time to social and political campaigns. Aruna Roy joined the Social Work and Research Centre (SWRC) in Tilonia, Rajasthan, in 1974, a non-governmental organisation (NGO) founded by her husband, Sanjit Roy. In 1983 she dissociated herself from the SWRC.


In 1990, Aruna Roy and Shanker Singh, an activist and theatre artist who used street theatre, puppetry, song and drama to convey complex ideologies to rural audiences, set up the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, also known as the Workers and Peasants Strength Union. In the mid-1990s, under her guidance, the MKSS began a campaign that advocated the public's right to scrutinise official records, a crucial check against dictatorial governance. The MKSS attacked corruption at the grass-root level and sought the accountability of public officials in matters related to the distribution of government funds.


The fact that the MKSS was founded and led by a woman activist, caught the attention of Sonia Gandhi, the current president of the Indian National Congress. Aruna leveraged this advantage further by ingeniously linking the Right to Information with issues related to women's employment, livelihood and empowerment. With Sonia Gandhi’s support, the Congress-led government of Rajasthan passed the Rajasthan Right to Information Bill in 2000.


Rajasthan as a state was never known for its progressive outlook regarding women. Aruna Roy, who had a major part to play in the passing of the bill, received the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Community Leadership the same year. Aruna decided to use the award money of US $50,000 to set up a trust to support the process of democratic struggles.


In 2004, under the leadership of Sonia Gandhi, the Congress party won the national elections and formed the central government with Manmohan Singh occupying the seat of the Prime Minister. Aruna Roy was inducted into the National Advisory Committee (NAC), a powerful but extra-constitutional quasi-governmental body, headed by Sonia Gandhi herself, which effectively supervised the working of the Manmohan Singh-led government. Aruna Roy’s role was to formulate the Right to Information Act. This Act was eventually passed by the Indian parliament in 2005. She also served as a member of the National Advisory Council of India until 2006 and was a part of NAC II.


Aruna Roy has also been at the forefront of many socio-political struggles of the poor and oppressed. She also voices her concerns about incidents pertaining to the recent increase of intolerance in the country. Her leadership and participation in the campaigns for the enactment of laws relating to the right to information, the right to work (the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act) and the right to food are noteworthy. As a member of the Pension Parishad, she has been involved with the campaign for a universal, non-contributory pension for workers of the unorganised sector. As part of the National Campaign for People’s Right to Information (NCPRI), she was vocal in her demand for the passage of the Whistle Blowers Protection Act and the Grievance Redressal Act.


With the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan, Aruna Roy was awarded the Times Fellowships Award for 1991 for her work for rural workers' rights to social justice and creative development. In 2010 she received the Lal Bahadur Shastri National Award for Excellence in Public Administration, Academia and Management. In 2011, she was named one of the hundred most influential people in the world by Times magazine. In September 2017 the Times of India listed her as one of the 11 Human Rights Activists Whose Life Mission Is To Provide Others with a Dignified Life. In 2018, along with the MKSS collective, she published a book chronicling the history of the Right to Information movement in India titled The RTI Story: Power to the People.


Aruna Roy's works have provided a better life to hundreds of people and continue to do so. She is truly an inspiration to hundreds and an 'unsung hero' in her way.



Bibliography:

  1. Kumar, Santosh. “10 Famous Women Social Reformer Of India”. WorldBlaze. 7 Nov, 2016. Web. 18 Mar, 2022. <https://www.worldblaze.in/10-famous-women-social-reformer-of-india/>

  2. n.a. “Interview | 'We Are Losing Our Right to Protest': Aruna Roy”. TheWire. n.d. Web. 18 Mar, 2022. <https://thewire.in/rights/interview-we-are-losing-our-right-to-protest-aruna-roy>

  3. n.a. “Aruna Roy – Indian Democracy: The Role of Civil Society and Social Movements in Strengthening Democracy”. Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. 28 Feb, 2019. 18 Mar, 2022. <https://watson.brown.edu/southasia/events/2019/aruna-roy-indian-democracy-role-civil-society-and-social-movements-strengthening>


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bcsarin
Mar 26, 2022

Very informative and nicely written post.

Looking forward to more such posts.

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