The whistleblower’s moral dilemma By Shashi Tharoor

Whistle blower is an evocative word; it immediately conjures up an image of a stern football referee blowing the whistle on some infraction, and that’s precisely what a whistleblower does. He (or she) is a figure of rectitude, someone who has witnessed wrongdoing from the inside and cannot abide it. Whistleblowers are the bane of those who break laws and rules: since most of the crimes they reveal are committed in secret, their testimony is indispensable to uncovering them.

The moral dilemma that confronts a whistle blower is that of his own complicity:

  • As an insider in the organisation where he finds a wrong being committed, he has a choice between staying loyal or blowing the whistle.
  • Sometimes whistleblowers have been involved in the wrongs they reveal but reach a point when they cannot take any more.
  • Sometimes their accidental or unauthorised discovery of a crime they were no part of, and of which they disapprove, makes them whistleblowers.

There are few things that can stop a sincerely motivated whistle blower.

  • Governments have the Official Secrets Act or the equivalent which prohibit employees from revealing secret information they may come across in the course of their work.
  • Some companies, especially large corporations, have a non-disparagement clause in their employment contracts to discourage whistleblowing.
  • But these only deter the timid, the intimidated or those with inactive consciences (who tell themselves they need the salary or the job more than the world needs to know about their boss’ illegal activities.)
  • Especially with the passage of whistleblower protection laws in most democracies, including ours, such considerations have rarely prevented whistleblowing.


  • It was a whistleblower listening in on an official phone call to take notes, who revealed President Trump’s misuse of his power for his personal political ends.
  • An Indian whistleblower revealed the fudging of pharmaceutical research data in Ranbaxy, practically destroying the company.

Background :

  • The phrase is said to have been invented by American civic activist Ralph Nader, but etymologists say it goes back to the 19th century and he should only be credited with bringing it into modern popular use.
  • The word was linked to the conduct of US and British police and law enforcement officials in the 19th century who used a whistle to warn a fugitive, alert the public or summon additional police.
  • The usage of the word has also evolved over time. An 1883 American newspaper story called a policeman who used his whistle to alert citizens about a riot a whistle blower (two words). Eight decades later, the two-word phrase had become a single hyphenated word, whistleblower. With its popularisation by Nader and the American media in the 1960s as a respectable term for people who revealed wrongdoing, it became the compound word whistleblower.

How it works ?

  • A whistleblower can choose to blow the whistle by revealing information or allegations either internally or externally.
  • Internally, a whistleblower can bring the wrongdoing he discovers to the attention of senior people within the same organisation who he believes are not complicit.
  • Sometimes corporations or government departments may have an officer assigned to receive internal whistleblower complaints.
  • Alternatively, a whistleblower can bring allegations to light by contacting an outsider – often the media but also, in government, another official, or if a straightforward crime is involved, police or law enforcement.

Risks Involved :

  • Whistleblowing is not a risk-free activity: it can cost you your job, and if your identity is revealed to the accused, result in reprisal actions against you and punitive retaliation: lawsuits, criminal charges, social stigma, and job termination are all possible consequences.
  • This would almost certainly be the case in most private companies; in government, a whistleblower is protected by law, but no private company is going to retain an employee, however moral, who has betrayed a confidence and lost his employer’s trust.
  • From a company’s point of view whistleblowing is unethical for breaching confidentiality, especially in businesses that handle sensitive client or patient information.
  • This is why most private company employees keep their head down when they discover their employer is breaking the law; at best, if their consciences are affronted, they set about looking for another job.
  • A morally upright whistleblower, therefore, is a rarity, and for that reason must be hailed as a hero.

Via HT.

UPSC Mains Ethics Paper 2019

UPSC Mains 2019 Ethics Paper General Studies Paper – 4

Section A

150 Words

1 a) What are the basic principles of public life? illustrate any three of these with suitable examples. (150 words)

1 b) What do you understand by the term ‘public servant’? Reflect on the expected role of public servant. (150 words)

2 a) Effective utilization of public funds is crucial to meet development goals. Critically examine the reasons for under-utilization and mis-utilization of public funds and their implications. (150 words)

2 b) Non-performance of duty by a public servant is a form of corruption”. Do you agree with this view? Justify your answer. (150 words)

3 a) What is meant by the term ‘constitutional morality’? How does one uphold constitutional morality? (150 words)

3 b) What is meant by ‘crisis of conscience’?  How does it manifest itself in the public domain? (150 words):

4 a) Explain the basic principles of citizens charter movement and bring out its importance. (150 words)

4 b) There is a view that the Official Secrets Act is an obstacle to the implementation of Right to information Act. Do you agree with the view? Discuss. (150 words)

5 a) What do you understand by probity in governance? Based on your understanding of the term, suggest measures for ensuring probity in government. (150 words)

5 b) Emotional Intelligence is the ability to make your emotions work for you instead of against you”. Do you agree with this view? Discuss. (150 words)

  1. What do each of the following quotations mean to you?
  • 6 a) An unexamined life is not worth living”. – Socrates (150 words)
  • 6 b) “A man is but a product of his thoughts. What he thinks he becomes.”  M. K. Gandhi (150 words)
  • 6 c) “Where there is righteousness in the heart, there is beauty in the character. When there is beauty in the character, there is harmony in the home. When there is a harmony in the home there is order in the nation. When there is order in the nation, there is peace in the world” – A.P.J. Abdul Kalam

Section B

250 words

7) You are heading the rescue operations in an area affected by severe natural calamity Thousands· of people are rendered homeless and deprived of food, drinking water and other basic amenities. Rescue work has been disrupted by heavy rainfall and damage to supply routes. The local people are seething with anger against the delayed limited rescue operations. When your team reaches the affected area, the people there heckle and even assault some of the team members. One of your team members is even severely injured. Faced with this crisis, some team members plead with you to call off the operations fearing threats to their life.

In such trying circumstances, what will be your response? Examine the qualities of a public servant which will be required to manage the situation. (250 words)

8) Honesty and uprightness are the hallmarks of a civil servant. Civil servants possessing these qualities are considered as the backbone of any strong organization.  In line of duty, they take various decisions, at times some become bonafide mistakes. As long as such decisions are not taken intentionally and do not benefit personally, the officer cannot be said to be guilty. Though such decisions may, at times, lead to unforeseen adverse consequences in the long-term.

In the recent past, a few instances have surfaced wherein civil servants have been implicated for bonafide mistakes. They have often been prosecuted and even imprisoned. These instances have greatly rattled the moral fibre of the civil servants. How does this trend affect the functioning of the civil services? What measures can be taken to ensure that honest civil servants are not implicated for bonafide mistakes on their part? Justify your answer. (250 words)

9) An apparel manufacturing company having large number of women employees was losing sales due to various factors. The company hired a reputed marketing executive, who increased the volume of sales within a short span of time. However, some unconfirmed reports came up regarding his indulgence in sexual harassment at the work place.

After sometime, a woman. employee lodged a formal complaint to the management against the marketing executive about sexually harassing her. Faced with the company’s indifference in not taking cognizance of her grievance, she lodged an FIR with the Police.

Realizing the sensitivity and gravity of the situation, the company called the women employee to negotiate. In that she was offered a hefty sum of money to withdraw the complaint and the FIR and also give in writing that the marketing executive is not involved in this case.

identify the ethical issues involved in this case what options are available to the women employee? (250 words)

10) In a modem democratic polity, there is the concept of political executive and permanent executive. Elected people’s representatives from the political executive and bureaucracy forms the permanent executive. Ministers frame policy decisions and bureaucrats execute these.

In the initial decades after independence, relationship between the permanent executive and the political executive were characterized by mutual understanding, respect and Co-operation, without encroaching upon each other’s domain.

However, in the subsequent decades, the situation has changed. There are instances of the political executive insisting upon the permanent executive to follow its agenda. Respect for and appreciation of upright bureaucrats has declined. There is an increasing tendency among the political executive to get involved in routine administrative matters such as transfers, postings etc. Under this scenario, there is a definitive trend towards ‘politicization of bureaucracy’. The rising materialism and acquisitiveness in social life has also adversely impacted upon the ethical values of both the permanent executive and the political executive.

What are the consequences of this ‘politicization of bureaucracy’? Discuss. (250 words)

11) In one of the districts of a frontier state, narcotics menace has been rampant. This has resulted in money laundering, mushrooming of poppy farming, arms smuggling and near stalling of education. The system is on the verge of collapse. The situation has been further worsened by unconfirmed reports that local politicians as well as. some senior police officers arc providing surreptitious patronage to the drug mafia.

At that point of time a woman police officer, known for her skills in handling such situations is appointed as Superintendent of Police to bring the situation to normalcy.

If you are the same police officer, identify the various dimensions of the crisis. Based on your understanding, suggest measures to deal with the crisis. {250 words)

12) In recent times there has been an increasing concern in India to develop effective civil service ethics, code of conduct, transparency measures, ethics and integrity systems and anti-corruption agencies .In view of this ,there is a need being felt to focus on three specific areas, which are directly relevant to the problem of internalizing integrity and ethics in the civil services. These are as follows:

  1. Anticipating specific threats to ethical standards and integrity in the civil services
  2. Strengthening the ethical competence of civil servants and
  3. Developing administrative processes and practices which promote ethical values and integrity in civil services.

suggest institutional measures to address the above three issues (250 words)


Cow slaughter and dharma by Dev Dutt

Dharma has been made out to be a complicated word. That way you can call anything dharma. Currently, many Hindu – or rather Hindutva – leaders want to equate it with commandment, taking a cue from Abrahamic mythology that they love to otherwise mock.

So dharma becomes law that you can use to control (or oppress?) sections of the population, create parameters for ethics and morality, deem what is good and right. But there is another word for law – it’s called niti. Niti (law) and riti (tradition) can be inspired by dharma, but is not dharma. Dharma is a thought, not an action.

Dharma is equated with the act of not killing, or ahimsa. This value placed non-violence began with monastic orders, Jainism and Buddhism, and was restricted to monastic orders, and certain communities, not imposed on all people. It was yama, or discipline, that is the first step prescribed for someone who wishes to practice Raja Yoga as prescribed by Patanjali. In the 20th century, Mahatma Gandhi’s Satyagraha turned ahimsa into a tool for non-violent political protest. Somewhere along the line ahimsa became associated with nobility and goodness. Neither violence, nor non-violence is dharma. For dharma is a thought, not an action.

Action is karma. Reaction is karma. Karma is a worldview that does not qualify actions as right and wrong but as having a cause and a consequence. Monasticism is neither good nor bad, it’s a choice of action that enables one to break free from the cycle of rebirths, but when men start finding glory in withdrawing from women, somewhere along the line women become “temptations” and sex becomes “dirty”. Likewise, when eating some kind of food is valorised over other, some foods become pure, and other kinds of food become impure. With concepts such as purity and impurity, we create a society of hierarchy, which was never the intention of monasticism, but ends up becoming its consequence. This is why in the Gita, Krishna speaks out against withdrawal from duties, even those involving violence, and in chapter four, verse 18, says, “The wise can see inaction in action, and action in inaction.”

So what is dharma? Dharma is potential. The best of what anything or anyone can do. Fire can burn; that is its dharma. Trees can grow and bear flower and fruit; that is its dharma. Birds eat, fly, mate, migrate, take care of young; that is its dharma. What are humans supposed to do? What is human dharma? This is a tough one. For humans have imagination. Hence the vast literature on it.

Humans can imagine a reality alternative to the reality we experience. So we have choices. Some animals like crows and cats and dolphins and chimpanzees have imagination but nothing in the human scale. So while they also have choice, whether to freeze or flee or fight in danger, and to play, and to problem solve, their abilities are nowhere in the human scale.

Dharma becomes even more complicated when we introduce social structures upon it: what is a man supposed to do, what is a woman supposed to do, what is a child supposed to do. What is the son of a charioteer supposed to do? What is the son of a cobbler supposed to do? What is a king supposed to do? What is a priest supposed to do? Gender, age and family vocation and economic situation shape our choices. In case of humans, dharma is the seed of thought that determines what will sprout as action. It is not what you do that is dharma; it is why you do it that is dharma. What is that thought?

For that we have to appreciate what only humans can do. What no plant or animal can do. What is that? It is the ability to reject the law of the jungle: that might is right, that only the fit can thrive. This is called matsya nyaya (law of fish) in Sanskrit. That is why Vishnu takes the form of fish in his first avatar. As a small fish escaping the jaws of a big fish, Vishnu asks Manu, father of humanity, to save him. Only humans can respond to cries of help. When we do, we validate our humanity. Animals and plants do not help other animals or birds (except the young of their herd or pack), not because they are cruel or indifferent, but because they do not have the wherewithal to do so.

Humans can help the helpless. Humans can choose not to dominate. Humans can choose not to be territorial or violent. Humans can share. Humans can help the unfit thrive. To do so is dharma. Simple.

But this makes dharma very tough. For who decides if we are helping or not. Dharma is not what we imagine it to be. We may think we are being kind, but if those around us feel we are cruel, then it cannot be dharma. Human subjectivity comes into play. Human plurality comes into play. Who decides who is the oppressor and oppressed? The parties involved or a third-party judge. But God is no judge in Hindu mythology. And in nature, there is no oppressor and oppressed, only eaters and eaten, predators and prey, the food chain and the pecking order. There is no objectivity here. This is why dharma is complex.

So people want to save cows. They say it is dharma. It is the Hindu way. That is a controversial statement. For it sounds like a commandment, which has never been the Hindu way. Hinduism has always appreciated the flux of society, changing with period, place and people (kala, sthan, and patra). In fact, there are verses (furiously debated and far from conclusive) in Vedic scriptures that suggest ancient Hindus did consume meat, probably even beef, before the rise of monastic orders in Hinduism.

Veda has a very mature view of violence, not a romantic view, very different from the monastic view of Buddhism and Jainism where the whole point is to withdraw from existence itself. Vedic scriptures are very clear that violence is a necessary component of existence, if one chooses to be part of existence. To live, we have to eat; to eat, we have to consume; when we consume, we kill. Nature is full of violence as animals graze and hunt for food. Even farming vegetables involves killing pests and weeds. Hence the Taittiriya Upanishad (3.10) describes divinity through the qualification, “I am food. I am that which eats food.”

Veda recognises that sanskriti or culture exists by consuming prakriti or nature. Thus in the Mahabharata the forest of Khandava is burned to establish the city of Indra-prastha on Krishna’s instructions. It recognises that violence is integral to the defence of notion of property, which is itself seen as a necessary delusion. So Parshurama slaughters the king who steals his father’s cow, and those who support him. So Ram fights Ravana to rescue his wife. And when things get ambiguous on who is the proprietor then, Krishna takes the side of the weak, the Pandavas (five brothers, seven armies) and not the strong, the Kauravas (100 brothers, 11 armies) not because the former are good but because the latter refuses to compromise.

This understanding, not endorsement, of violence is why the Goddess alone, not the male gods, are offered sacrifice of male, only male, animals – the bull, the buffalo, the goat, the rooster. She embodies nature, and this blood offering to her is to remind us of the aggressive dominating alpha tendency that needs to be kept in check, often violently, for civilisation to thrive and dharma to grow. This understanding, not endorsement, of violence is also why the Mahabharata has a Vyadha Gita, where a butcher gives Vedic wisdom to a hermit who has withdrawn from family responsibilities.

Cow was sacred in Vedic times, when people lived a pastoral life, as it was the source of milk from which one could make curd and ghee, hence food. So cow protection had much to do with economics. Did this protection of cow extend to the bull, or the buffalo? We are not sure. Does cow protection mean cattle protection? Does it mean not eating buff (buffalo) meat? There are no clear answers or injunctions anywhere.

No one opposes the violent castration of a bull and turning him into a beast of burden to pull ploughs and carts. It’s a price of culture and we are willing to pay the price. Durga kills the buffalo, which is visualised as an asura. Shiva kills the elephant and the tiger, also forms of asuras, and wraps his body with its blood-soaked hide. Krishna kills the wild horse, Keshi, and a violent calf, Vatsa, also considered asuras. These images of violence can be taken literally as acts of violence that helps humans tame nature and establish culture. Or they can be taken as potent metaphors for masculine aggression, again the masculine referring to the tendency to dominate, not gender per se.

Metaphorically, the earth is a cow. Puranas speak of Vena who plundered the earth until the earth protested and the rishis decided to kill him and how Prithu, the primal king, promised the earth-cow that he would protect her and nurture her. Puranas speak of Vishnu wiping the tears of the earth-cow and promising to relieve her of the burden of greedy kings (one reason why the wars of Ramayana and Mahabharata are fought). Today, we let industry destroy the earth; NGOs like Greenpeace protest. Governments have to tread the line between development and saving the ecosystem carefully. We don’t want Venas, but the current government seems to be also punishing those who stand up to modern-day Venas. So much for respecting rishis, who protected the earth-cow.

Metaphorically, cow is the foremost symbol of livelihood. Killing cows was destroying someone’s source of livelihood. It was not acceptable. It could not be dharma. By banning the consumption of beef, many butchers will be deprived of livelihood. Many poor farmers will be forced to take care of old cows, which will add to their economic burden. Many tribals and Muslims and Christians and non-Brahmanical Hindus will be deprived of a much favoured and cheap non-vegetarian food, a source of protein for them. Is this dharma?

For all its faults, the old community-based society (I do not use the word “caste” as implicit in the word is oppression) rules were restricted to communities. Jains and Buddhists could practice their vegetarianism without imposing it on Kshatriya rulers. Muslims could eat beef in their community without disturbing the Brahmins in the neighbourhood. However, as we have rejected this old system, and strive for a secular democratic republic we want the same rules for all communities. This has its benefits, for women for example and LGBTQ communities. But it also comes at a cost. Vegetarian communities want all communities to be vegetarian. We are becoming “missionary” in our zeal. We may not be able to get a uniform civil code in matters such as marriage and divorce but, we certainly can ban beef across the board, stating religious sensitivity of one community and steamrolling over customs and practices of others.

Yes saving cows can be dharma. But banning beef is a lazy, inauthentic, even a mischievous way to go about it. A far superior and authentic solution would be establishing cow shelters as many Hindus and Jain do, and buying old cows from poor farmers at prices much higher than that offered by butchers. But this will cost a lot of money, and the vegetarian business community knows is not economically viable. Surely money can be spent if we believe saving cows is dharma? But the Maharashtra Government, which has banned beef recently, knows this will not win it votes. Tax payers will be furious.

Banning beef will create conflict, conflict will provide media fodder, polarise society, divert attention from real issues (like land grabbing, dispossession, draconian labour laws, marital rape, violence against women, children and LGBTQ), and maybe even win votes. So banning beef is more a political decision, in my view. Not one based on helping the meek. Raja-niti, not raja-dharma.