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Protect The Whistleblowers, Don”t Punish Them!

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By Alam Bains:

Sanjeev Bhatt, an IPS officer in the Gujarat police who filed an affidavit in the Supreme Court against the state government, alleging that the state government, instead of prosecuting the guilty in the communal riots of 2002, has been secretly leaking information to the defense counsel, was suspended on the grounds of unauthorized absence from duty.

Another senior Gujarat police officer Rahul Sharma is being pulled up for passing on information to the panel probing the same riots. He is being charged with Violation of the Official Secrets Act, although the Gujarat government, after media coverage has denied chargesheeting him.

M.N Vijaykumar, an IAS officer has received 40 death threats and has been transferred seven times in a span of 10 months for exposing a Rs 344 crore scam in which subsidies meant for electricity for the poor were being used by the rich.

Amarnath Pandey, an RTI activist, was shot but survived when he filed an RTI application enquiring about the details of a local project in which a huge sum of money was reportedly embezzled. Earlier, a truck had tried to run him over.

What is the common attribute of all these people? They are whistleblowers. A whistleblower is a person who exposes a wrongdoing, fraud, corruption or mismanagement. Their stories reveal what happens to people who stand up against corruption or any wrongdoing. These are a few stories which have caught the attention of the media, but there are thousands of others who have either lost their lives of have been tortured for their courage and conviction.

In the year 2004, an engineer with the National Highways Authority of India, Satyendra Kumar Dubey was murdered when he wrote a letter to the Prime Minister A.B Vajpayee, exposing corruption in the construction of highways. He had asked for his identity to be kept secret but the letter was forwarded to various departments without masking his name. This was the first case which highlighted the importance of the protection of whistleblowers and led to the Supreme Court pressing the government into issuing an order, the Public interest Disclosures and Protection of Informers Resolution 2004, designating the CVC as nodal agency to handle complaints on corruption.

Five years later, the Cabinet cleared the Whistleblowers Protection Act which intends to protect the whistleblowers and facilitate the disclosure of information and uncover corruption and deceptive practices that exist in government organizations.

The bill, which is yet to become a law gains importance in today’s scenario as we can see how whistleblowers are being targeted, but the bill lacks public debate and consultation. Moreover, it has some serious drawbacks.

Firstly, the scope of the bill is very limited. Private sector, intelligence agencies, civil society organisations like NGO’s and armed forces have been excluded. Looking at private sector scams like the Satyam scam and the IPL, it is necessary to include private sector in the ambit of the proposed law. Moreover, human rights violations by the armed forces as well as corruption cases within the armed forces need to be accounted for. Secondly, according to the bill, protection will be provided to a whistleblower only after he/she makes a complaint. So an RTI activist who is threatened for just filing an application under the RTI Act is not protected by it. Thirdly, disclosure has been made time bound. The bill states that no complaint will be probed if it is made 12 months after the petitioner got to know of it, or five years after the date of alleged offence. But if we look at some of the most important cases, like the Bhopal gas tragedy or the Godhra riots, the time limit of five years might be over but important disclosures continue to made.Time period does not diminish the importance of these issues. Fourthly, investigation is not time bound. Apart from these factors, there is limited protection to the whistleblower.His/Her identity can be revealed at many junctures. Moreover, it is not always the whistleblower who is targetted, but also the family. The bill takes no account of that.

The nodal agency for handling complaints of corruption, the Central Vigilance Commission, works in an advisory capacity. It is not an investigative agency and will need to outsource investigation to the police or the CBI. As long as they are under the control of politicians and bureaucrats, we cannot be assured of a proper investigation as well as adequate protection for the whistleblower.

Hence, we can clearly see that the draft bill is flawed. It has become really important to ensure that the bill which seeks to protect the whistleblowers is effective rather than just give an impression of providing protection. The need of the hour is to debate and discuss the bill, bring in the required corrections and come up with a draft which makes disclosure of information easier and safer, which protects the whistleblowers rather than victimise them.

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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.

Read more about the campaign here.

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, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’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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