Philip Gain

Ashoka Fellow
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Bangladesh
Fellow Since 1989
This description of Philip Gain's work was prepared when Philip Gain was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1989 .

Introduction

Philip is currently directing the Society for Environment and Human Development (SEHD), a non-profit organization to work on environment, development and human rights. As a strategy to be effective in its work the organization is engaged in investigative reporting and training professional and rural journalists skills of investigative reporting. Through his work, he is helping human rights workers, environmentalists, and the press by demonstrating first class investigative journalism in the environment and human rights areas. Multilateral development banks (MDBs) has been one of the main attention in the research led by Philip Gain.

The New Idea

A journalist by choice, Philip has been involved in human rights issues since he began his career. He has embarked on several investigative projects over the past couple of years, and now wants to set an example for other potential human rights activists. He plans to do so by putting out about twenty reports a year on different human rights cases, and by training leading professionals and journalists in investigation and other relevant skills. Philip wants to help build a strong cadre of activists and investigative journalists in Bangladesh, so that in the future, human rights violations cannot occur as easily or without eliciting responsive action.

The Problem

Bangladesh is a country where the power structure allows human rights violations to often go unnoticed. Certain groups are especially vulnerable-tribal and religious minorities, women-and these people usually have no one to speak out on their behalf. The press is watched carefully by the government and can be subject to heavy-handed censorship. It is not surprising that investigative journalism is all but non-existent in Bangladesh. Any attempt to point out wrong-doing on the part of powerful government officials or elites has to be done with extreme discretion and can jeopardize a reporter's safety (as Philip himself has learned).

The Strategy

Philip is well aware of the dangers of working in the human rights field and carrying out the kind of in-depth probing it requires. He sticks to two principles in his writing to minimize the risks when reporting sensitive stories: he only reports facts-never accusations-in a very objective and non-inflammatory style; and he never comes out as directly anti-government, although he may explicitly criticize one particular department or bureau. For example, with an ongoing case in Modhupur, a forest area three hours north of Dhaka, Philip's reports have openly condemned the national Forestry Department for promoting a rubber plantation, which ultimately harms the local tribal population, the national environment and economy, and the state. The tone is pro-government, although the target is a government agency. Through these sorts of tactics, Philip reduces the risk of being identified as a clear menace to the government. As he proves the effectiveness of his methods, he can forcefully encourage others to pursue investigative journalism also.

He plans to start his formal training sessions with representatives from member organizations of the Coordinating Council. They will be a receptive audience with whom he can refine his training approaches; the second group he is aiming at is promising young journalism graduates. He also plans to employ lawyers to begin defining human rights legislation for Bangladesh.

The Person

Philip grew up in the coastal village of Gopalganj, where his father is a small farmer. He was awarded a government scholarship that allowed him to attend high school in Dhaka, and eventually he completed a Master's in journalism from Dhaka University. Since then he has done human rights work with different private voluntary organizations, and became Director of the Coordinating Council for Human Rights in 1988. Philip also submits articles regularly to local papers and magazines based on his investigative work.