Anti-Corruption Activist Satish Shetty Slain in Retribution for RTI Work Murder: Highlights Need for Whistleblower and Activist Protection

29 January 2010

by Yvette M. Chin

Pune, India — Several men attacked and murdered Indian RTI activist Satish Shetty with swords the morning of January 13, in a killing that activists say is the result of Shetty’s RTI work. To date, local police have taken five men into custody for Shetty’s murder, including lawyer Vijay Dabhade and several of his associates. Several of the men that carried out the alleged contract killing may still be at large. Indian activists say that Shetty’s brutal murder highlights the lack of protection afforded to activists and whistleblowers.

Shetty had exposed numerous instances of corruption, especially involving illegal land acquisitions, using India’s Right to Information Act to uncover these scams. Ten years ago, Shetty publicized shady land deals involving the construction of the Mumbai-Pune Expressway and had since worked hard to unearth other instances of local land corruption.

According to Anna Hazare, one of India’s most renowned social activists,“[Shetty] was killed simply because he used RTI to unearth corruption and in the process antagonised the vested interests of the powerful. The clear message that the killers want to send out is that nobody should dare to do what Satish did. This is frightening and can cause a serious setback to RTI movement.”

According to news reports, Shetty had exposed lawyer Vijay Dabhade for building a private bungalow illegally on land belonging to the Central Railways. According to police sources, there was a history of conflict between the two, with Shetty lodging as many as nine complaints against the lawyer. Dabhade had allegedly attacked Shetty twice in the past. Local law enforcement had arrested Dabhade and his wife for attempted murder for one of these incidents. The hearing in the case, in which Shetty was to testify against Dabhade, was set for January 15—just two days after Satish Shetty’s murder.

Condemning the incident, Sumaira Abdulali, convenor of the Movement against Intimidation, Threats, and Revenge against Activists (MITRA), said “This has become a trend and social activists are considered soft targets, the government must take immediate steps to stop such attacks.” Shetty’s murder came fast on the heels of another attack on a prominent activist, Nayana Kathpalia, who had also been assaulted in May 2004.

The list of activists assaulted or threatened in India is discouragingly long: H. S. D’Lima threatened and assaulted in March 2005, James John threatened and assaulted in March 2006, Edwin Britto threatened and attacked in 2000 and again in June 2005, Suryakant Panchal assaulted in June 2004, Anandini Thakoor and Aftab Siddiqui threatened in July 2005, January 2009, and mobbed three times, Navin Pandya threatened and attacked in September 2009, S. Ganesan threatened and attacked in November 2002, and Navleen Kumar attacked in 2002.

The Bombay High Court has launched an investigation into Satish Shetty’s murder, as well as the attack on Nayana Kathpalia. Civil society organizations and social activists in India are demanding protection from retribution.


Anna Hazare

Movement against Intimidation, Threats, and Revenge against Activists (MITRA)


Anxious activists demand new protection law,” The Times of India, 16 January 2010.

Lawyer, aides held in Shetty murder case,” The Times of India, 16 January 2010.

No protection given to whistleblower despite request,”, 18 January 2010.

RTI activist murder: No to 1-lakh supari led to lawyer,”, 19 January 2010.

One more held for Shetty murder,” The Times of India, 24 January 2010.

Don’t just shed tears for whistleblowers, put systems in place to protect them,” The Times of India, 27 January 2010.

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