A news article published in today’s Economic Times reported Edward Snowden flagging off to the public that there are significant threats to his life, as he had leaked information on the NSA and their collection of telephone records and conversations. For those who aren’t aware, Edward Snowden is a former CIA employee and former NSA Contractor Employee who leaked several top secret documents to media outlets and has been on the run since then. Snowden has been considered a fugitive by the USA Authorities and has been charged of Espionage and theft of Government property.
Snowden is just one example of Whistle-Blowers being under threat. History has shown us that while in theory Whistle Blowers are revered doyens of their field, in practice they are hurled into the spotlight of the public eye and are swiftly in constant peril.
Whistle Blowers are meant to be people who gesture to decision making authorities (or regulatory powers) about any wrong doing in their place of work. Ideally these people should be honoured for their courage and dedication to do the same, but that’s rarely the case. Whistle-blowers might be safe(sometimes) while in the limelight but public memory is limited and Media outlets don’t publish articles unless they get views, the whistle-blowers are then left to handle the situation themselves, or with little help. It’s a very precarious position to be in and even the thought of it is unnerving.
Harry Markopolos had discovered the Madoff Ponzi Scheme and tried to blow a whistle on it (almost 10 years before it finally unravelled) and no one listened to him. Instead, as the years passed Markopolos began to fear for his life — he carried a gun and regularly checked his car and house for bombs. He said that if Madoff didn’t silence him, one of the many people enjoying steady returns from Madoff’s “feeder funds” would. Even if some corporate Whistle Blowers manage to escape with their lives, they lose their employability. I mean, which top management executive would employ a person with a track record of blowing the whistle on them. I’m sure Sherron Watkins would allude to that. She was the VP of Corporate Development at Enron when she blew the whistle on a scandal that blew the top of the Corporate World. She had to turn to a new career of becoming a writer and a lecturer after this incident.
India is no safe haven for Whistle Blowers either (Well, Duhh). There have been multiple instances of threatening, harassment and even murder of various whistle-blowers. Satyendra Dubey, was murdered in November 2003 after he had blown the whistle in a corruption case in the NHAI project. Shanmughan Manjunath, an IOC employee, was murdered for sealing a petrol pump that was selling adulterated fuel. A senior police officer alleged that Mayawati’s government was corrupt and had embezzled large amounts of money and was shortly thereafter, sent to a psychiatric hospital. The country still does not have a Whistle Blower Protection Act. The Whistle Blowers Protection Bill was passed by the Lok Sabha in 2011 and has for over 2 years been pending with the Rajya Sabha.
You’re likely to be a proletariat blowing it on powerful people higher up the Corporate Ladder. And more likely than not, there will be powerful investors connected politically as well; and while on paper it would be ideal to blow on the whistle on wrong doing; practically people are not really encouraged to do so. Whistle blowing is a dangerous proposition that almost entirely shrouds a person’s identity and life in uncertainty, risk and danger. We can only hope that things change. But in my view it is unlikely that it will.