Field Notes: The Story Behind RTI Activist’s Photo Transporting A Policeman On His Bicycle 

ANIL KUMAR TIWARI

Vyapam whistleblower Ashish Chaturvedi's life story is the most intriguing among all the RTI activists I have met and read about. A member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, Chaturvedi was 23 when he exposed the biggest admission and recruitment scam in Madhya Pradesh in 2013. After his mother died of cancer in 2010, Chaturvedi’s investigation into the quality of medical care given to her led him to discover a network of fake doctors who did not appear for their entrance exams. 

When I spoke with him while reporting on the perils of exercising the right to information in MP, Chaturvedi recalled the story behind the viral photograph of him riding his bicycle with a police constable sitting at the back.

After being attacked several times in 2015, Chaturvedi demanded security from the government. His mode of transport has always been a bicycle, and the constables assigned to protect him would ride alongside him. Then, the police department stopped providing bicycles and told him to take the policeman on his bicycle, Chaturvedi recalled. 

“Mere jaisa 45 kg ka aadmi 60 kg me security guard ko peeche baitha ke ghume, ye badi muskil baat hai,” he said. (How will a 45-kg person like me ride a bicycle with a 60 kg security guard? It wasn't easy.) “In reality, they assigned security guards to spy on me.”

Chaturvedi said the constables assigned to him for his security were making videos of his activities on the orders of senior police officers in the state. After he moved the Madhya Pradesh High Court in 2019, submitting that his right to privacy was being violated, and senior police officers carried out a probe, town inspector Rajkumar Sharma was fined a penalty of Rs 10,000.

“The camera followed me till my bathroom door. My mother and sister were living under tremendous mental stress with cameras video-graphing them as well. Breaching my privacy in the name of security, police officers barge into my house. They follow me everywhere with cameras. They follow me while I visit a shop to get photocopies done, or when I talk to anyone. This has led to my social boycott,” he told the court. 

In 2017, the Times of India reported that the Gwalior police had changed over 200 personal security officers (PSOs). Many complained about his insistence on riding his bicycle everywhere and his attitude problem. In 2019, Firstpost reported that 41 people associated with the scam had died. In February 2022, the Press Trust of India reported that the Central Bureau of Investigation had charged at least 640 people in the case. 

When I asked him how he felt about the viral photograph all these years later, Chaturvedi replied, “ Jeevan ka sabse kastdayak samay tha. Police ne pareshan kia, jasoosi ki, jhoothe aarop lagaye. (It was the most painful time in my life. I was harassed, spied on and falsely accused by the police). 

Many television channels interviewed him after the photograph, making him a local celebrity, Chaturvedi recalled before adding that the photo adversely affected his life. 

“Several of my friends and family members distanced themselves from me after the photo went viral," he said. "Everyone appreciated our efforts, but nobody wanted to hire me. I have found life to be tough.” 

You can read Anil’s full story here.

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