During the October gathering of activists, Roy, Dey, and thirty others gave an update on the nationwide study they are conducting of the RTI law’s impact. As part of the study, underwritten in part by $250,000 from the Google Foundation, the activists have compiled a database of case studies, some six thousand accounts of how the act has struck a small blow for poor farmers and other underdogs. The cumulative effect, Dey says, is a “class-action kind of thing” that he believes will shift India from an electoral to a participatory democracy. “You can’t say it’s tangible. It’s a change of culture,” he says. “It’s governance being turned around.”

The media are turning around as well, albeit slowly. English-language newspapers now regularly publish stories brought to them by RTI activists. Some have broken bite-sized exclusives stemming from their own requests. One Bangalore tabloid has carved out an RTI mini-beat. In November, Delhi’s largest television station launched a federal probe with its report—based on information obtained under the RTI law—that newborn babies were dying at a disturbingly high rate at a leading city hospital due to unsanitary conditions there. Within other newsrooms, editors and reporters accustomed to India’s smash-and-grab style of journalism openly acknowledge they need to find a way to harness the landmark law. “To be very frank, we have not understood the power of the Right to Information Act yet,” says Saikat Datta, an investigative reporter for the weekly newsmagazine Outlook, about the journalistic community. “We just haven’t figured out how powerful this tool is and what it can achieve.” 

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Ralph Frammolino , a reporter at the Los Angeles Times for twenty-four years, is a visiting instructor at the Indian Institute of Journalism & New Media, in Bangalore.