Empowering citizenry

Dr. John Patrick Ojwando
Published: March 2019

Kattuputhur Natarajan Sakthivel is a research scholar who’s passionate about his calling. “I consider myself to be a simple but hardworking, bold and straight-forward person. Since childhood, I have been self-taught because of my inherent craving to learn new things. I want to help people, not just to fight for their rights, but to also find social justice. And I believe the only way is not to rely on governments of the day but to find ways to help each other,” he says.

Originally from a nondescript village in Trichy, a district in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu, Sakthi or KNS as he is fondly called, completed his schooling from the century old Zamindar Higher Secondary School at his home town before obtaining a Technical Diploma in Electronics from SCSM Polytechnic College, Mohanur, a place brought to the limelight by Natarajan Chandrasekar, Chairman of Tata Group.
Later, he moved to Bengaluru but could not complete his Engineering course although he secured a merit seat from the University Visvesvaraya College of Engineering, Bangalore (UVCE). Since that setback, he has gone on to amass a host of educational milestones straddling Management, Political Science, Mathematics and Sociology.

Buoyed by the reputation of the faculty at JAIN, Sakthi decided to make an appointment. “Before meeting with Dr. Sandeep Shastri, Pro Vice Chancellor, Jain (Deemed-to-be-University), who would later become his research guide, Sakthi explains that he didn’t know how things would go, once he decided on pursuing his doctoral studies. “When I met him, he actually helped me, giving the direction I was lacking,” he quips.

Pegged in the domain of Political Science/ Public Policy, his study titled, “RTI ACT 2005 –Assessing its Implementation, Impact, Implications and its Provisions to Curb Non Compliances,” seeks to engage with the broad context of democratic processes and providing a legitimate space and platform for citizens’ right to access the information from various public authorities. As he explains, RTI stands for Right to Information.

What piqued his interest in the study was an article he read in The Times of India in 2015 with the heading, “Only 0.41 Percent of Indians Seek Information under RTI Act of 2005”. This stirred him to action. He found it strange that in over a decade of the existence of the RTI Act, not many people were using it, considering that every year India loses over 1 trillion dollars due to corruption and lack of accountability and transparency in administration.

While there have been scams unearthed through the RTI Act of 2005, one question that refused to go was why only 0.41 Percent of the population was using the RTI Act 2005.

And the answers? Perhaps this and many more will be unveiled once he completes his doctoral research studies. According to a recent Transparency International Survey, India ranks top amongst 16 Asia Pacific countries for having to pay bribes to access government services. “As a citizen of India, I regularly file RTI applications for various issues and I appreciate the benefit of this Act,” reflects Sakthi. “I have been under the impression that many people are using this Act for various issues with respect to matters of governance, transparency and corruption, since in a democratic country the real masters are the people. Therefore, the people of this country have got every right to know whether the government elected by them is functioning in the way they desired or not,” he adds.

So far, Sakthi is in the pilot project stage with his questionnaire, after having made three review presentations. Already, he has filed 600 RTI applications for his research study and is conducting an analysis on the responses. Sakthi reminisces on his early days when life was simple but had its own challenges. “Money played a major role since for us it was a hand to mouth situation and that made the transition a little difficult. I loved going to school and always dreamt of being a teacher.” That dream has been fulfilled.

Until 2013, Sakthi was working as sales and service operator but retired to seek his fortunes as a self-employed teacher. Even as he assists children with learning challenges, he conducts courses on RTI Act 2005 at his resource centre, to help ordinary people understand the various aspects of filing of RTI applications.

As for his research routine, he believes research is part of our daily existence and calls for a systematic schedule. His advice to those seeking to undertake research is simple. “We need a systematic approach in solving challenges we face in life and therefore must attach importance even to minuscule of tasks, devote time without neglecting or postponing any single one of them.”