Would you like answers with your cup of chai tea?

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Would you like answers with your cup of chai tea?

Krishna Murari Yadav has a tea stall in rural Uttar Pradesh, in India. He is supporting people at his chai stall to ask difficult questions of the Indian state, one hot drink at a time. Devyani Nighoskar writes.


KM Bhai in an RTI Workshop at his tea stall. Credit: KM Bhai

Sarvesh Kumar is a shopkeeper from Tatiyaganj, a village in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. He was anxious after receiving his daughter’s high school results in early 2019. She was marked absent but she attended the exams. Kumar knew that getting an explanation would mean finding his way through the corrupt bureaucracy of the state. And it wouldn’t be easy. Hoping for an answer, Kumar went to Tatiyaganj’s ‘RTI Tea Stall’. There they serve chai (Indian tea) and they understand that people have a right to answers from the authorities.

Like Freedom of Information laws in other countries, the RTI – or the Right To Information Act – gives everyone the right to find information from the government. They have to ask in writing, online or offline. Public Information Officers must answer in 30 days and digitize certain records so everyone can find them.

‘The RTI Act is a revolution for us,’ says Krishna Murari Yadav. He owns the RTI Tea Stall. People call him KM Bhai. He is 32 and he learned about the RTI Act at a legal awareness workshop in his home town, Kanpur. He understood immediately how little people knew about the act in rural areas where inequality makes it very difficult to get information. ‘I went to villages around Kanpur to lead awareness workshops about the RTI Act but villagers laughed and tore up the leaflets,’ he says.


Moolchand, a tea-maker employed by KM Bhai; helps him set-up the RTI Tea Stall. Credit: KM Bhai

KM Bhai had the idea for the RTI Tea Stall one evening when he has feeling unhappy about the workshop and the torn-up leaflets. The villagers around him became interested and they began talking about people’s rights. ‘I realized that the tea stall is an informal place with no power structures. Conversations with a cup of chai are different,’ he says. Using India’s tea stall culture, KM Bhai started the RTI Tea Stall in October 2013.

There are information posters on the walls of the RTI Tea Stall and RTI leaflets on the counter. Villagers in and around Tatiyagnaj come to drink hot tea and write RTI questions. They wrote about 15,000 in the last 7 years, asking for information on things like welfare and street lights that aren’t working.

‘KM Bhai is our community’s information soldier,’ says Kumar. He got his daughter’s exam results checked with the information he had from the RTI Act.

But KM Bhai’s work is getting more difficult now that the rightwing BJP party and Narendra Modi as Prime Minister, came to power in 2014. In 2019 they introduced new changes to the RTI Act. Now the central government will decide on the contracts and salaries of the Chief Information Officers. This stops the independence which the Information Officers have.

And many RTI activists were harassed for asking for information that will perhaps show how badly the public officers do their jobs. Local government bullies tried to attack KM Bhai’s tea stall in 2015. They made threats to shut down the shop, they pulled off the thatch-roof, and broke chairs. KM Bhai thinks that the attack was because of the large number of RTIs they wrote about land conflict problems.

But the RTI Tea Stall continues and KM Bhai plans to have other RTI tea stalls across other regions: ‘In a democracy, constitutional rights are bigger than any ruling party.’



(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)