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ramblings of an unknown psychiatrist

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Whistle blowers- Beware: a story with notes

Posted by Dheeraj Kattula on June 25, 2010

Have you heard of the term ‘whistle blower’? I would save you the trouble of clicking an external link to understand this term by sharing what the Wikipedia says as on 24th of June 2010. A whistleblower is a person who raises a concern about wrongdoing occurring in an organization or body of people. Usually this person would be from that same organization. The revealed misconduct may be classified in many ways; for example, a violation of a law, rule, regulation and/or a direct threat to public interest, such as fraud, health/safety violations, and corruption. Whistleblowers may make their allegations internally (for example, to other people within the accused organization) or externally (to regulators, law enforcement agencies, to the media or to groups concerned with the issues).

The organization that I work with abides by the laws of the land, rules and regulations formed by itself, health and safety norms and works in public interest. It is very open to listen and is keen on being a ‘learning organization’. It only requires some time and energy to walk to a senior and put forth your views. The ideas will be taken note of and discussed. One need not fear any reprisal.

Unfortunately many organizations are not like that. You can read this story from Riverbank Laundry Inc. It is a modified version of a story I heard as a child. It does have lessons to be learnt in the context of working in organizations and on being a whistle blower.

Dhobanna was CEO of Riverback Laundry Inc.  Riverbank Laundry was a one man organization which had a human assistant and two animal assistants. He worked on banks of a river. His  two animal assistants were- Kuki, a dog and Gardhab, a donkey. He washed clothes in the river and let them dry in the sands of river bank. Kuki would keep a watch on those clothes as they dried. In the evening Dhobanna would pack all the clothes and load them on Gardhab. Gardhab would carry all the clothes back to Dhobanna’s house a mile away. His wife would Iron those clothes and then Gardhab had to carry these to the homes of the clients. On the way back, Dhobanna would have a ride on Gradhab.

The business situation in the region was like this. Many had entered the laundry market. There were no entry barriers. It required no major capital investment. All that one required was a clientele. Usually people managed it from the street of their residence. Dhobanna’s Riverbank laundry was an old player. It existed in that town for at least 5 generations. Dhobanna cut his costs and kept the price low to retain his market share. He continued to grow despite the competition. In the bargain Kuki and Gradhab were losing on their daily nutrition and they had to work more to cope with his market.

Kuki started resisting passively. He would intentionally look away if a thief was eying some clothes to steal in the hot afternoons in the river bank. He wanted his master to get insulted by his clients for losing their stuff. Dhobanna’s growth attracted attention of local thieves. One night they broke into his house. Kuki and Gradhab were tired after a day’s work, but they were still awake.

Kuki looked away. Gradhab told Kuki, “ Bark, Kuki…Bark. Wake up our master. There are thieves in our home”. Kuki replied, “Gardhab, I am tired of Dhobanna. Fellow is starving us and squeezing us at the same time. Let them loot him of the booty he made from our toil. I want to see him cry tomorrow morning. If you want to so loyal, go ahead and bray.”

Gardhab brayed hard. He wanted to wake up his master. Dhobanna had had a tiring day. He woke up. He was furious at his donkey for waking him. He grabbed a stick and rushed to the back yard. He started beating Gradhab, incessantly. Gardhab brayed more trying to get his attention to the problem. The more he brayed, the harder Gardhab got hit. Gardhab stopped after he could not bray more. Dhobanna went back to his bed.

Kuki slept silently in a corner. Next day Dhobanna found his house cleaned up. All things worthy of mention were gone! He cried out loud. He went to the back yard. He found Gardhab lying on his side. He went close. Gardhab’s eyes were open wide and blood which had oozed from his nose and ears had dried. Gardhab was not breathing. He was long gone. His master had beaten his loyal servant to death. Kuki was watching all this at a distance. He lost his friend. His master lost his everything. Even if Kuki were to be thrown out, he could always make a living outside.


Was security on Gardhab’s job description?


Was he not recruited for logistics?


Did Kuki do the right thing?

Passive resistance is found in organizations, but it is picked and addressed.

Did Gardhab do the right thing?

We all feel he did the right thing, because we see the bigger picture that he saw. He worked in the interest of the company. He went beyond the text of his job description. He was not a right fit into the job. He was too good for that job. His boss did not understand his integrity or his competence. In working for a wrong boss and wrong company Gardhab paid with his life.

Should we blow whistle in our organizations?

Yes, if it is going to be taken seriously. No, if it makes no difference and especially if we might attract reprisal. If the issue is crucial and goes against the personal values a person stands for, then it may be better to leave the job. It is not our business to change a company’s values to our personal values however good they might be.


2 Responses to “Whistle blowers- Beware: a story with notes”

  1. RPR said

    Good take on an ancient folk tale. I suppose, ultimately, the decision to blow the whistle or not remains an ethical and moral one – but the consequences can often be unpredictable, and sometimes timing is crucially important.

    • Dheeraj Kattula said

      Thanks for sharing that insight on timing. Yes it is true that decision to blow the whistle is an ethical or moral one, as it risks going against one’s self interest in acting for the larger good of organization or society.

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