Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Aruna Roy – Indian Democracy: The Role of Civil Society and Social Movements in Strengthening Democracy

Thursday, February 28, 2019

5 p.m. – 6:30 p.m.

Joukowsky Forum, 111 Thayer Street

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Aruna Roy is a well-known social and political activist. A former Indian Administrative Service officer, she resigned from the IAS in 1975 and has since worked with the most oppressed in society. Aruna Roy’s observation on government service is indicative of her future concerns: “Everyone calls it an elite service; I always felt the discourse should be a bit better than what it was. I was shocked to find people boasting about their ‘achievements’ in corruption. I realised that if I remained in the system, I would have to oppose it without any assurance of support from colleagues or success. I preferred to leave.”

After quitting the civil service, she joined the Rajasthan-based non-governmental organisation (NGO) Social Work and Research Centre. Aruna Roy left the SWRC in 1983 and in 1990 formed the Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan (MKSS), a people’s political organisation. The MKSS began by fighting for fair and equal wages for workers, which evolved into a struggle for the enactment of the Right to Information (RTI) Act. Aruna Roy is one of the key figures who played an important role in the realisation of this Act in 2005. A champion of participatory democracy and decentralisation, she says that “representative democracy had to a great extent betrayed its promise to deliver. Though necessary, its failure to be accountable to people, beyond the vote, was underscored again and again. Democracy had to shift more towards participation.”

She has been in the forefront of many sociopolitical struggles of the poor and oppressed. She also voices her concerns about the recent increase in 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, or MGNREGA) 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.

Read the full interview with Roy here.

Center for Contemporary South Asia