The life of a whistleblower in India is a dangerous one. JN Jayashree is married to a bureaucrat who has spent his career protesting against bribery and swindling in government practices. She tells Kavitha Rao that when she started to fear for her husband's safety, she decided to start up a blog to protect him and document their anti-corruption movement
JN Jayashree blogs to gather support for the fight against institutional corruption. Photograph: Kavitha Rao
I live in Bangalore, the capital of the southern state of Karnataka, ranked recently as the fourth most corrupt state in India by Transparency International. My husband, MN Vijayakumar, has been an officer in the Karnataka cadre of the Indian Administrative Service for 26 years. He has been trying to fight corruption in the government throughout his whole career, with some success. However, for the past two and a half years his reports have been completely ignored, while corruption has increased.
My husband has been transferred several times – once even to a defunct company – with no reasons given. Last year he tried to introduce a revolutionary system that would have allowed public inspection of government files under the Right to Information Act (an act similar to the British Freedom of Information Act, which gives the public the right to seek information from public authorities). Two days before the system was launched, he was transferred again.
He filed a complaint against the chief secretary – the top civil servant in the government – before the Lok Ayukta (an anti-corruption watchdog body), and since then we have received several threats. One night someone came to our house and told us that our son (who studies at university) was sick, and that we needed to go with him immediately. He had no way of knowing that our son was actually asleep in our house. Recently, a stranger came up to me and told me to stop my crusade, and threatened to hurt my family. We have filed several police complaints, but they have been ignored.
Last year, in May, I started writing a blog. I didn't want my husband to end up like Shanmugam Manjunath or Satyendranath Dubey (the two men who were found murdered after exposing government corruption). Most whistleblowers don't tell anyone what they are doing until it is too late. I thought that the public should know how my husband was being treated. Corruption has always been a problem, but bureaucrats are now hand-in-glove with politicians and are promoting it, not preventing it. Even if they don't actually take bribes themselves, they turn a blind eye to those who do.
Currently there is no protection for people who inform on the government. After the murder of Manjunath in 2005, the central government asked the state governments to set up committees to protect whistleblowers, but the Karnataka government has yet to set up a committee.
My husband and I have filed about 35 applications under the Right to Information Act (RTI), asking for information on everything from the government's transfer policy to their measures to deal with corruption and protect informers. It is a slow process, but we have started to receive some information. Everything that I do is made public on my blog, and anyone who wants to make a difference is welcome to help. I also guide people who want to file applications under the RTI.
We are trying to build public pressure to get the state governor to take action. We have not yet had support from the government, but there has been a lot from the public: we have well-wishers from all over the world, some as far away as the US and the UK. There are plenty of honest people in government who support us secretly, but they are afraid to speak out; some tell us that they will help us when they retire.
What my husband and I are are trying to do is identify officers in the government who can help people to get things done without taking bribes. In Belgaum, the district in Karnataka where we are currently posted, my husband set up an anti-corruption movement called Pragati Belgaum. He plans to compile a list of honest government officers in the area. There are honest people out there, but nobody knows who they are.
Several officers have now pledged in writing that they will no longer accept bribes. On Anti-Corruption Day we presented a memorandum to the state governor demanding measures to check corruption, such as including vigilance officers in every department, and giving more powers to the Lok Ayukta. There is already a public services bill, which provides some protection for whistleblowers, but it has still not been made a law by parliament. We are lobbying to turn it into a law.
My husband and I consulted our college-going children before we began our movement, because we knew we would be threatened and face financial difficulties. One of the chief secretaries asked us: "Do you know what you are doing? I don't have to tell you that the people you are fighting against are so powerful that they will decimate you." But we went into this with our eyes open, aware of the risks.
My long-term goal is to change people's mindset. We hope to form a network of committed individuals who will combat the network of corruption. The RTI is the main tool we have in our fight: information is power. We can't expect overnight changes, but I believe that if we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem.
So many Indian people have come to accept corruption as a way of life; they are ready to pay a bribe to get their work done – or done faster. We plan to start anti-corruption education programmes in schools and colleges to educate the young. The new generation needs to say no to corruption.
Parimal Tripathi is a volunteer content writer for Jaagore. To learn and speak about issues on street children, environmental pollution, garbage disposal, corruption, volunteering, volunteer work, community services, NGOs, social and civic issues visit http://www.jaagore.com
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