Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Whistleblowers in our society

Bradley E Manning, 24, US Army Soldier.  He has been kept in solitary confinement by the federal government for the last nine months. He is kept locked inside a room for 23 hours a day, and for the remaining 1 hour, he is only allowed to move around in circles in another room. At no stage is he allowed to see or talk to another person. He is banned from dozing or relaxing during the daytime and is kept under surveillance 24X7. He is forced to sleep naked and stand naked for inspection every day, and is not allowed to wear anything except a "smock", under claims that he poses a risk to himself. His offense? He is the person charged with passing on the documents related to the US army engagements in Iraq and Africa along with another cache of confidential government documents.
While the UN and other human rights groups are crying foul over the inhuman treatment meted out to him, one is forced to consider why should he face such torture in the first place? Did he do something which was criminal, or posed a threat to the community as a whole? No evidence to suggest that. He was just the whistleblower, the messenger who conveyed the ground realities behind the veil. While the USA prides itself on its democratic governance where the citizens are assured of their human rights and the state takes it upon itself to protect these rights, this case points to a blatant exception and a clear case of retaliation by the state. The state of affairs in India isn't much different either. On the night of March 2, 2011, a group of miscreants lynched Niyamat Ansari, a 53yr old social activist in Daltonganj, who had blown the whistle on the irregularities in the implementation of the MGNREGA in the area. Looking back a few years, one can find similar incidents, where Manjunath Shanmugam was shot dead by the petrol mafia and Satyendranath Dubey who was killed for trying to expose the corruption in the construction of highways. There are numerous other cases.
We always preach that one should never support corruption and that allowing corruption is as bad as being corrupt. In every government office or department, one comes across large notice boards and posters asking them to report any incident of corruption, but we choose to ignore. Why? There are 2 reasons behind that: Numero uno is the chalta hai attitude. For us, everything goes until it hurts ourselves. And secondly, it’s fear.  We are scared of telling the truth in front of all, because by disclosing our identities, we fear making enemies. The people who benefit from  corruption are often the most influential lot, and their wrath can wreak havoc. In fact, we don’t even have any law to protect the interests of the whistleblower. Internal whistleblowers, are often punished by their own companies and departments, they are often terminated or otherwise discriminated against. In fact, other prospective employers too, avoid hiring whistleblowers.  In such a scenario, how can we expect people to raise their voice against corruption. And as is evident, things can’t change unless the law gets teeth to fight these threats.

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