Koshika Krishna is a 22 year old lawyer and social activist from Mumbai. She addressed many issues of public interest through her RTI applications since the age of 18. She is also an active litigant at the Maharashtra human rights commission where her cases deal with right to life, custodial violence and minority issues. She cases have lead to increased regulations for potable drinking water in the city of Mumbai and in expedited pension process for over 4,000 old folk artists across Maharashtra. Know more about her journey in this exclusive interview :
Q1) Talking about yourself, Beginning at such a young age, can you in-brief tell us your journey so far?
Koshika – My journey began at the age of 18 when I started filing right to information applications at various public departments on the crucial issue of safety and security against man made disasters like fire, riots, terrorist attacks in the city of Mumbai. I took this issue until the second appeal before the State Information Commission and the learnings I had through these interactions with such senior officials, holding them accountable and in demanding answers inspired me to pursue more such issues. I then began working in providing sociolegal aid to victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. While here I observed the stigma around a woman’s body and the restrictions they face in accessing basic rights such as information, healthcare and bodily autonomy. These observations then pushed me to launch a project SEHER for addressing menstrual health and nutrition. So far SEHER has worked with more than 1,500 women and girls across rural Maharshtra. Overtime we diversified and also began to engage in legal intervention on public interest cases at the National and (Maharashtra) State Human Rights Commission. I currently deal with numerous cases through these forums around right to life, custodial violence, medical negligence, tribal rights. Some of my successful orders are on the right to clean, potable drinking water for the residents of city Mumbai and on expedited pension process for more than 4,000 district level folk artists. For my work around social and legal change I was also awarded under the Top 25 category at the national level fundyourownworth campaign in 2018 by the ICICI Bank.
Q2) Who was the major motivation in your life behind your decision to take up social activism at such a young age?
Koshika– I had always been interested in creating impact and addressing public interest issues but I believe the breakthrough came from the following incident. My experience as an 18 year old, during the second appeal procedure of my RTI Application at the State Information Commission, in fact I still very vividly recall this image. I remember sitting on one side of the long table with the judge presiding over and on the other side were eight senior public officials from four departments. The judge demands to know why there has been such a massive failure on the part of all departments to furnish the crucial information I had asked for. Failing to find any merit in their responses he while directing the information to be furnish also issues a show cause notice. This incident inspired me and I realise how much power each citizen possesses and that we only need to exercise it. If I could do this as an 18 year old with my minimal legal knowledge and guidance, imagine the impact we all could made if we starting using these avenues to hold the government accountable. I now also realise that this is my duty, that I am responsible to exercise my agencies, my privileges to create impact and that I am responsible for both my actions and inactions. I cannot be a mute spectator to incidences I can do something about !
Q3) You have fought cases against failure of the establishment at many levels including the BMC, can you elaborate a little bit about the same?
Koshika– The BMC case that I fought was filed based on a newspaper report which documented how over 60 residents from a Dadar colony were suffering from jaundice due to contaminated water that the BMC was supplying them. Their repeated requests had gone unheard and the BMC simply continued to blame them for the water quality stating that their internal service pipelines were damaged. The residents in fact had all their pipelines changed but the situation only became worse with some of the residents severely sick and one of them at the verge of suffering 90% liver failure. My case spanning over a year and a half eventually lead to the BMC’s own investigation concluding that their main water pipes had leakages through which the sewage water of an adjoining pipe would enter. Eventually I was able to get the court to take action against errant officials, set out in-house guidelines to prevent such incidences in the future and to inquire into the health hazards suffered by the residents and to accordingly award monetary compensation to them. The ripple effects of this case have now lead to the BMC conducting pipeline checks across the city, setting up a 24 hour complaint helpline and issuing notices with claims that their water is safe for direct consumption and much better than even the WHO mandated standards. 1 This was not an easy journey, their lawyers made every attempt to delay the due process. I was involved in this case while still pursuing my law degree and hence had to juggle around a lot of commitments. My other successful case involved around 4,000 pensioners from across Maharashtra. The case is peculiar because this doesn’t deal with normal pensions granted to government servants. Those cases already have a redressal system in place. There are clear cut guidelines laid down for the pensioners with the specified authorities they must approach in case there is a severe delay by the administration. My case dealt with a special kind of pension scheme that fell outside the mechanisms set up for pensions awarded to government employees. Therefore, there were no accountability platforms for ensuring execution and redressal of grievances. The pension scheme in fact was set up because the State realised that these individuals were living in abject poverty with barely sufficient funds to manage their basic livelihood needs. They realised that as individuals who had contribute so heavily in maintaining and protecting the cultural wealth of the state it was the duty of the state to ensure that they were provided for, in their old age. My order has now ensured that the delay is rectified, it has also called for inclusion of various government services such as Jeevan Praman which provides digital life certificates to pensioners for easing the process of obtaining life certificates from artistes every year. They have further been directed to use the state government’s digital locker service to enable the retired artistes to upload, . https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/mumbai/mumbaikars-can-now-drink-water-straight- 1 from-tap-bmc/articleshow/69287916.cms
Q4) What are the status of these cases right now?
Koshika– Aforementioned two cases are being executed right now, I am awaiting the compliance reports from the departments.
Q5) What do you feel are the reasons for such failure by officials at various levels? Is corruption the major problem? Or do you feel something else drives inefficiency? two main reasons:
Koshika- One, there is no accountability within the departments. If the lower level officer is inefficient the senior will not pull him up, and if the senior is inefficient the minister/ secretary will not question him either. It becomes a vicious cycle that is only broken when a huge incident occurs and the department is suddenly plunged into the middle of a media storm. In fact even then they barely move a finger, except what is necessary as immediate damage control. Once the momentum dies the functioning is back to the same lax and casual routine. Secondly, this lackadaisical approach also stems from the fact that the citizens do not question them for their failure to perform their statutory duty. We forget that we vote them to power, we pay their salary with our taxes, they are government servants working for our welfare. The remnants of our colonial psyche forces us to bend down and treat public officials with undue reverence. Stop that. Start asking questions. Start making your rightful demands. there are so many avenues available now to seek redressal and pull officials up. Social media, news channels, media houses that allow self published articles for recording incidences, RTI, online grievance redressal mechanisms, online petition forums. We have to start using them because only then can we rectify the error in these systems and thus in turn address the real issues. the easiest thing is to give into cynicism and pass blanket statements such as ‘nothing will ever change. that one person alone can not make a difference’
Q6)What are your future plans and where do you see yourself in the next 10 years?
Koshika– I plan to practice law in the field of Human rights. I do not have a 10 year vision. The only reality that exists for me is THE PRESENT and the only thing I aim to focus on is how and what I can do in the present.
Q7) What do you think is the role of the youth in the development of a country such as ours?
Koshika– 60% of the Indian population comprises of the youth. We have immense power to create change. And while I do have fellow friends who are also working on various projects in their capacity to create change, I also see a large number of the youth sceptic and cynical about development in India and heartbreakingly observe that they believe that are not capable of creating change. There is a quote that my mentor saying whenever I am close to giving up, “Little faith is no faith.” We have to keep faith in the system. In our ability to push the boundaries, to make rightful demands and to have them addressed. The most sustainable form of reform is the reform from within the system instead of the idea of creating alternate forms of systems. Thanks to technology we have multiple tools available at our disposal, the young need to take charge. I want the youth to pick a problem, any problem they feel passionately about and to do something about it. I would rather have you do a little something than nothing at all.
Q8) Finally, What will be your tips to youngsters wanting to get into social work and activism, including the difficulties and risks that lie ahead.?
Koshika– Someone rightly told me this and it is branded/ singed into my memory that ‘your actions and inactions both count.’ Every time I see a news article with a human rights violation I tell myself, If I do not do anything to address this it weighs on my conscious. I want everyone reading this to feel the same level of ownership about whats happening around them. As individuals who have been privileged enough to be born with the access to basic amenities such as food, water, education, an environment free of exploitation and abuse it is our duty (not even the obligation) to exercise our privileges in favour of those who do not have the same. You have not earned your privileges, you just happen to be lucky enough to have them. So exercise it beyond your own needs. It is also important to let go of the cynicism. Cynicism and frustration with the state machineries can never create change. One needs to be patient and persevere. And finally, be brave. I would rather have you make mistakes than live in fear and never have tried. The quote that I live by is this, ‘it is not your aptitude but your attitude that takes you to higher altitude.” and hence it is so important that you have the right attitude towards life, because if you do then the sky is your limit.
Thank You So Much for speaking to us Koshika Krishna (Conclusion)