Corruption is big news these days. We all see it as that shining pinnacle of everything that is wrong with India because of the government. Sure, the government has done many things wrong. But is that the whole story?
Let me begin with saying that I don’t believe those who say that the politicians in power are representative of Indian society when it comes to corruption. There are many who say that, and I think that is too simplistic. There are plenty of clients who lose time and again at elections. Independents who do come into power and serve their smaller responsibilities with grace and utility. Politicians who can do entire terms without becoming headlines at all, because they do what they are supposed to do, and it isn’t a “selling subject”.
Today, I’d like to look at different breeding grounds of corruption – they all are damaging us. Not only the politicians. We may currently be in a very frustrated and stuck space on the politicians, but there is no reason why we shouldn’t go ahead and change what we can, anyway.
I am looking at corruption as anything we do by abdicating our responsibilities in our role and using circumstances for personal/affiliate advantage.
Corruption in the Indian Political System
I am looking at the whole lot of so called representatives of the public. The Indian mentality is still feudal. We don’t see ourselves as the owners of the country, we see us as subjects. Instead of moving toward a space of healing and expanding our confidence and ownership, this mentality has consistently been abused by the government to keep us further enslaved. I am not speaking of specific political parties… yet. I think the method of using elections to obtain representation of the people itself is flawed and biased toward the more powerful and worse, has few safeguards against the utter overwhelming of contenders without such support. There is also such inherent use of power rather than system to meet objectives, that the opposition as a check is largely useless because everything easily is derailed into petty finger pointing that is quite irrelevant to the running of the country. We have all heard the scams, so I am not going to talk about them. We know it is a massive problem, it is loot. But there is other political corruption. Favoritism, subversion of the law in terms of attacks on people and properties for political differences, government sanctioned attacks on dissenting citizens and even the constant reduction of administration of the country into ego struggles and defensive evasions. It is still our country that gets eroded.
During the Lokpal Protests, many people are saying that we should first fix ourselves so that these corrupt people find no traction. That is not true. Even if every citizen miraculously became dead honest, it would have no impact on those gaming the system for fun and profit on levels of government, policy, opportunity, etc. Another opinion is that the JanLokpal not being elected is undemocratic. There are many offices that allow a country to function well. Politicians are the only elected ones among these. We don’t elect Supreme Court Justices either. Are they undemocratic? On the other hand, I do understand the concern in the sense that we can’t keep creating meta processes for everything. There has to come a point where everything must work, because without that, the meta body is just another breeding ground for corruption. This is true. Another conclusion that the government can’t be challenged by a non-elected body is ridiculous. What do you mean can’t? It already did. How long does one play ostrich? Some say it is unconstitutional. I don’t see how it is unconstitutional to disempower a government not fulfilling their constitutional mandate. In my eyes, it is the government that has made the constitution irrelevant to its actions. If an amendment and further action needs planned to ensure the people can’t be taken for a ride, I am all for it.
That said, I am not particularly a supporter for JanLokpal or opposer of it, in spite of all my very vocal articles. I am a supporter of any and all attempts to change this current system, because it is not working for me. Get me a solution that is “constitutional” and I will promote that too.
Corruption in the public space
This is literally symbolized by the policeman on the street pocketing money to overlook illegal actions. And it is true. They say power corrupts. The police have a lot of power over citizens. It is easy to play God with it, because every policeman has power over citizens, and it is impossible to monitor every single one. But there is a desperate need for reforms right from the policy level, where there is a trickle of funds that ought to be more. Salaries that ought to be better, equipment and training that need to be meticulously up to date. To a psychological level, where there is no sense of pride or responsibility about being a policeman, only a sense of power. These things can be addressed with well designed interventions. Organizations like ISABS would probably volunteer or offer cheap world class professionals very readily. On a functional level, there needs to be a more scientific approach overall, whether it is testing and improving on response abilities, fitness, communications, strategies, techniques, investigations, interrogations…. a constant attitude of evolution is essential. This goes right back to the top – more money needed.
This exact list can be copied and used for many organizations in service of people. But there are other forms of corruption – denying public space or respect in it for groups of people. Be it acting on, or encouraging prejudice. People become second class citizens based on their age, gender, religion, caste, class, political affiliation, etc. It may be promoted with very logical reasons, but there are two things fundamentally wrong with it, that people don’t realize:
- In a democracy, all citizens are equal before the law and have equal right to public space. By promoting hate and intolerance, we are not only creating conflict, we are SUBVERTING DEMOCRACY.
- The other problem is allegations. Whether it is about a religious kind of people, or social, or economic. We have Courts to deal with wrongdoing. Do NOT trust anyone who provides you with a judgment of another. ANYONE. Be it about Modi’s corruption or evils of Islam. If you look carefully, anyone telling you what to think follows it with what to do about it. Think for yourself.
The main disease here is inertia. Things are so rigid and hierarchical that the lower you go down the ladder, the more people wait to be told what to do and the higher ones can’t do anything because no one seems to support. More autonomy, engagement at all levels, would help create a sense of ownership of the process and thus reduce tendency to sell it short.
This should be backed by energetic investigation of complaints. There should be a clear culture of separating work from personal relationships which frees investigations from having to be goody goody or accommodate biases.
Corruption in individuals
This is really vast. People are used to taking the easy way for themselves and there is no civic consciousness. Subjects don’t need it. They are ruled. They are told. In a democracy, it is a great idea to engage ownership. India IS free. India is our country and the garbage on the street is also ours. We need to understand that like tidying a home even if you have a maid, one day or the other, we’ll have to tidy our locality, even though the public services maintain it.
It is an accepted modus operandi to find connections or bribe people to get work done. For example, this current problem with Airtel… Many people suggested that I pay their bill and sit quiet. Others asked me to find someone who is a big shot in the company and ask him to waive the charge. Not one person said, ok, I’ll babysit Nisarga, you go, do your consumer complaint. In fact, I actively got advice not to approach courts because it would be futile. This kind of attitude needs to change. We cannot expect something to work if we don’t work it.
Even small things like traveling on train tickets meant for someone else or paying some extra to get your driving licence.
I got advised to charge more if I wanted more work. Reason? Other established trainers were charging a lot of money I didn’t feel justified taking. If I got hired, future audits would expect lower expenses. Therefore they hired someone who charged more. Company money. People earn a lot of goodwill spending what is not theirs. Another version of this is to hire the vendor who will provide a profitable margin to the recommender under the table. So instead of ensuring the company gets best, the person causes the company to get someone who profits the individual at the cost of the company.
Of NGOs taking on cases they know of and turning away the needy citing lack of funds. Of societies allowing some residents to use flats for commercial purposes for a bribe. Redevelopment builders bribing people to sign away their rights and lose any advantage they may have.
Paying, receiving or witnessing corruption
The important thing is to raise your voice when you see the problem. To be sure that what is happening becomes known to people. To condemn and ensure that it doesn’t slide under the carpet unnoticed. To rise personally and question all our assumptions that it is okay if we have separate standards for ourselves because we are the “good guys”
Thin line of corruption
We are a culture heavy on relationships. It is very normal to reach out to people we know for help. Both giving and receiving. At what point does getting a work requirement fulfilled by a cousin become depriving the company of good providers or favoring one over the other? Is it saving money and hassle to contact someone we know or is it laziness about researching and choosing the best? These are matters that require serious reflection.
They require public acknowledgment and debate. We need to create that kind of a space to fight corruption. Aiming at the government is important and independent of what needs to happen on social and personal levels, but while we wait for actions to do later, there is no harm in getting started on these too.
What to do?
To stop fixing one face on corruption and to challenge it wherever you see it. To keep challenging corruption in the government or society or people and accept that we are part of the system rather than point fingers and exclude ourselves, because we can’t change others, but we can change ourselves.
It will work if we work it.