Dissertation Abstracts

The Right to Know, The Right to Live: Grassroots Struggle for Information and Work in India

Author: Pande, Suchi , suchi_pande@yahoo.com
Department: Development Studies
University: University of Sussex, United Kingdom
Supervisor: Peter P. Houtzager
Year of completion: In progress
Language of dissertation: English

Keywords: Right to information , social movement , development , India
Areas of Research: Social Transformations and Sociology of Development , Political Sociology , Social Classes and Social Movements


This study attempts to develop an understanding of the iterative and multi-scaled process involved in transforming the state from below by examining the relationship between two of the most politicised rights-based legislations in India: the Right to Information Act (RTI) and the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA). Based on one and a half years of ethnographic and interview based research, and five years of working with the RTI campaign, I examine the reciprocal relationship between the rights to information and work, and the multi-scaled activism necessary to instantiate both. First, I trace different phases of the struggle for the right to information, beginning with the creation of alternative public spheres, Jan sunwais (or rural public hearings) that responded to demands for the right to work in rural Rajasthan. Second, as this demand culminated in a broad-based advocacy network, I examine the role of actors from diverse institutional arenas that succeeded in passing the national RTI legislation. I also look at how the same national network of activists introduced the public accountability mechanism of social audits, inspired by the Jan sunwai, into the new right to work law or NREGA. Finally, bringing the process full circle, I look at the ongoing efforts of the MKKS and the Suchna Evum Rozgar Adhikar Abhiyan (The Right to Information and Work Campaign) to implement the right to work on the ground in rural Rajasthan. In contrast to existing studies, I provide a more comprehensive analysis of the interdependent struggle for rights to information and work as one long iterative process to transform the state from below. I conclude with some reflections on the different vision of “transparency” and “accountability” emerging from rural grassroots struggles and what the RTI and NREGA experiences teach us about the possibilities for their realisation.