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Of WikiLeaks, Tehelka And Righteous Media

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By Pratap Kaul:

In 2001 Tarun Tejpal-led Tehelka came into the limelight with its Operation West End, pushing the limits of investigative journalism. Tehelka, an Urdu word meaning ‘tumult’ managed to achieve just that with Operation West End. The ‘sting’ operation became an overnight phenomenon and exposed corruption in the highest echelons of Indian bureaucracy. Bangaru Laxman, President of the BJP was caught on tape accepting bribes from Tehelka journalist Mathew Samuel who posed as a representative of a bogus arms company West End based in the United Kingdom. Mathew Samuel went on to record around 105 tapes in which top officers from the armed forces as also ministers from the BJP led NDA alliance accepted bribes to see through high level, sensitive defense deals.

The Vajpayee government was brought to its knees. George Fernandes, Defense Minister, though, not directly incriminated was forced to step down from office. Parallels were drawn to the BOFORS scandal and Prime Minister Vajpayee was left red faced in the wake of these developments. His image of Mr. Clean was tarnished and questions were raised over the credibility of the government. A dot com media house had almost unseated the Prime Minister of the world’s largest (pseudo)Democracy.

What followed after that is what we witness again ten years later- a ridiculous and vulgar display of power games by people in high power positions. Tarun Tejpal and Tehelka became Government’s enemy number one. Allies of the NDA government threatened to pull out over inaction against the media house. The government had to do something to redeem itself. Court cases were slapped on Tehelka. CBI raids ensued; criminal cases against Tehelka were created out of thin air. Tehelka’s financiers were put behind bars. Tarun Tejpal was up against the wall. He issued the following statement when deposing before the Venkataswami Commission instituted by the government to investigate into Tehelka: “Everybody loves us but nobody wants to be associated with us. Not a single rupee has been invested in Tehelka after we broke the story of Operation Westend. Our financiers have been put behind bars. We are served summons by half a dozen a week. We have been harassed by all the government agencies. I have not paid salary to my staff for the past five months.”

So much for Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression in the world’s largest democracy?

Julian Assange, sex-offender, rapist , TIME magazine’s readers’ choice for Person of the Year and his non-profit media organisation WikiLeaks has brought the who’s who of the world to its knees. The release of over 91,000 secret dossiers on the Afghanistan war, the support of Pakistani ISI to Afghani Taliban, Iran and North Korea’s involvement in assisting the Taliban and numerous such issues related to the war has the US government reeling in its aftereffects. Also the leak of US diplomatic cables (documents basically) describing incidents surrounding international affairs from 274 embassies over almost four decades( between 1966 to 2010) has world powerhouses mulling over its repercussions. The information contained in these cables seeks to expose the truth behind many issues, including discussions over peace settlements in the Middle East, nuclear disarmamant, the War on Terror, US intelligence and counter intelligence, and the US support of dictatorship and so on.

In an attempt to cover up their tracks and use diversionary tactics the US government in tandem with its long standing ally, the United Kingdom had arrested Julian Assange on charges of sexually assaulting two Swedish women. (Assange is out on bail) As per text book definitions, transparency and democracy are synonymous. However in reality it is anything but that. This loutish exercise of power by guilty representative governments to curb the voice of truth is anything but forgivable. Agreed there may be some sensitive issues, not fit for public consumption.

But hiding behind the facade of being righteous and running a cock fight racket behind that is a completely different issue. We can’t continue to be taken for granted like this and allow representative governments to violate our rights.

If a wife suspects her husband of infidelity (or vice-versa); she hires a private detective. The private detective monitors the husband’s actions for a suitable time period and reverts to his client. Either the wife is a paranoid suspecting woman or her fears are justified, in which case she files for divorce backed by relevant evidence. (photographs, videos, tapped phone conversations, smses, emails and so on).

Surely this is a violation of privacy, but does the husband sue his wife for violating his privacy? No.The husband and wife entered into a legal agreement when they got married. Both of them are answerable and accountable for their actions, to each other and before the court of law. So also, is the case with representative governments (Democracies) and the people who elect them. The elected governments who have been conferred ‘power’ by the people don’t have the right to use this power against the people and censor sensitive information which exposes their shortcomings. They are answerable to the people for their actions. They are answerable to people for the Afghan War, Iraq War, Kargil War, CWG scam, 2G scam, Adarsh Scam, Defense scndals and another 1000 rackets.

We need media men like Tarun Tejpal and Julian Assange to check the uncrupulous exploitation of the people,by the Governments for the people. These two accounts just go on to show what the media houses can achieve if they stop clamouring over TRPs. As people that constitute a democracy,we need to ask questions. We need to give up our lax chalta-hai attitude towards most things. We need to Jaago. ‘The pen is mightier than the sword.’ Never before have I agreed with this more.

Kudos to Tarun Tejpal. Kudos to Julian Assange ( You got my vote for Person of the Year). We need more like you.
Jaago re Jaago junta! Jaago re.

Images from here and here.

You must be to comment.
  1. Gurtej

    Great article!!! Completely agree with you

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on Change.org has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in Change.org’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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