The corrupt Indian

So Anna Hazare and Team Anna are back with their fight against corruption in India and to ensure the implementation of the Lokpal Bill. There are mixed reports in the media about the success of this round of agitation, as none of the expected fasting, sloganeering, jail bharos, allegations, counter allegations, etc., etc, has really taken off. It the reports are to be believed then it appears that the movement has lost momentum as well as direction this time around.

I feel that part of the reason for the Anna juggernaut not sustaining is due to their simplistic understanding of corruption. Today, corruption is no longer only about those who take bribes; it is also about those who give bribes. Corruption is not only financial; it is moral, ethical, ecological, societal, ideological, creative… It is not only the politicians and the bureaucracy who are corrupt; society itself has become corrupt.

Corruption no longer has a simple definition; today, it is highly contextualised, complex, layered and subjective. What one person perceives as corruption can be another person’s “legitimate” way of securing his/her future! Take the case of a person who bribes his or her way to a lucrative posting within the organisation he/she works for. This is done with the understanding that the returns are worth the bribe paid. Think Customs, the Mumbai Octroi, the RTO… and you’ll know what I mean.

Corruption is so endemic and blatant that we have taken it for granted in a matter-of-fact way. Regrettably, the discourse on corruption in India rarely reflects its subjective understanding or its diversity or its depth or its endemic nature. Mostly, we get to read dry and technical analyses full of academic jargon, tables and figures and how India is being bled dry economically. Most of the articles are dramatic exposes intended to shock and titillate, but which ignore the deeper malaise that grips our society. Though some of these articles go into the reasons behind the corruption, very rarely does it take a mirror to the society we inhabit and present the different faces of the corrupt Indian.

I am surprised at the blinkers that we have on as we only have to look around us to see the many faces and avatars of the corrupt Indian :-(

The parents who scream themselves hoarse over a rise in their child’s school fees, but have no qualms in “buying” a seat in an engineering/medical college for the same child.

The rabid sons-of-the-soil politicians who espouse education in the local language only, but send their own children to English-medium schools.

The film director/musician who slaps a case of plagiarism against another director/ musician for allegedly “copying” their work. Never mind that they themselves have been “inspired” by someone else’s work.

The Team Anna member and a star crusader in the country’s fight against corruption, who claimed business class fare, even though she flew economy.

The industrialist who roundly condemned a state government’s response to communal riots and then shifted his pet project to the same state a few years later.

The Chief Minister of the same state mentioned above who refused to accept responsibility for the gruesomely planned and executed communal riots.

The builders who make a killing from grand residences constructed on the land and dreams of the dispossessed.

The pharmaceutical industry that spends more money on marketing their products, than on developing affordable medicines.

The slum lords who exploit the very people they take money from in the name of protection.

The politicians who change their political parties and ideologies with every election.

The journalist who films a group of sick perverts molesting a girl in the hope of getting that breaking story.

The devotee who donates money, jewels, gold, silver and whatnot to a temple, but will not consider sponsoring his domestic help’s child’s education.

The school teachers who do not teach at school and instead force their students to attend the private coaching/tuition classes conducted by them.

The adoptive parents who want to consider only fair children and that too from their own caste and community.

The motorist who will abuse traffic policemen at every opportunity, but will be ever willing to offer that Rs.500 bribe to the same police to avoid a ticket.

The doctors and hospitals that allow a premature baby to die as the parents could not afford to pay Rs.200 for treatment.

Yours truly, who has knowingly bribed twice before—the first time to get her passport and the second time to register her house. And both times because yours truly was not patient enough to wait out my turn and chose the easy way out.

The government that failed to protect one of its own. All because he told the truth. And successive governments who continue the tradition of letting the honest down and rewarding the corrupt.

The avatars of the corrupt Indian are indeed limitless and everywhere… As I mentioned earlier, we just have to look around us and see them in our midst and maybe in our homes.

Which corrupt Indian have you encountered? Do share.

Related article: The exploitative Indian

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49 thoughts on “The corrupt Indian

  1. Well said. I have nothing to disagree with you on this post. This is the reality and we all need to accept it honestly. I like the way you described corruption contextualised, complex, layered and subjective. Absolutely, corruption is no more a simple issue to deal with. Now the number of people who directly or indirectly involve in this process are in billions. So to change a system that has such a huge number of people involve with is not a easy job. The only solution I get out of my head for this issue is, “We can’t change a system, or the people who are involve with it. But I can change myself”. And the day each one of us will start taking this “I” seriously, corruption will go away by it own.
    Great post!

    • Welcome here, Arindam. Delighted to see you here and very glad that the post resonated with you. You are absolutely right when you say that the change has to come from within, and all it requires in many places is a firm “no” and loads of patience. I know that I will wait out my turn at every step and not give in to bribing and an easy way out.

  2. Recently, I attended a court as the witness of the ‘State’ on a matter related to fraud committed by a defaulting customer. I was disgusted to see how people were pushing rolled up currency notes into the hands of the clerk right under the nose of the magistrate. State’s counsel wanted me to pay Rs 500 for an early deposition -Aap ko jaldi free hona hai to…! (If you want to go go home early….) The peon wanted me to pay Rs 50 for getting a letter certifying my presence signed by the magistrate. I may sound vain but I didn’t pay a dime to any of these morons, went on to meet the magistrate directly in his chamber during the afternoon recess and requested him to ensure my deposition, braved the stink-laden court till the closing hours when it actually happened and I was cross-examined.

    • Wonderful , Umashankar. I understand this much. For fighting corruption, one has to have integrity, and patience. Once you stand firm, and are prepared to go without those amenities which needs to be obtained through corrupt means, you live by example.
      In this way, it can be eradicated, first from self, then family then social circles. It is not impossible.

      Well written page. Thought provoking one.

      • Glad this post resonated with you, Vetrimagal. I believe that corruption can be eliminated, but it needs more than laws’ it needs a change in the way we think and behave and in the way we respond and react to the environment around us. It calls for a lot of patience, something that I wonder our road rage filled and instant solution demanding generation has. I wonder…

        • The earlier generations have suffered in silence and accepted the situations.

          The very fact that so many of us, are questioning the practices,and are prepared to stand by our beliefs, appears to be a change. Our children, our close family and friends have accepted and understood our ideals, however shaky it may be. Similarly many will follow. …
          I see lots of hope here. We may not see a sea change,or violent revolution, but it will spread …

          Vetrimagal aka Gardenerat60 aka Patturaj:-)

          • Finally the mystery is solved. I had thought that you were the same but now I’m sure. :-)

            Hope is what makes the world go round, hope is what sparks of revolution and change, and hope is where realities lie. And in this case, hope is the driving force for the many people who are saying no to corruption in their own different ways. Be it Anna Hazare, his team, his supporters, individuals like Umashankar… Somewhere all this will meet to bring about that change we require so much to make our worlds a better place to live in.

    • Hurrah for you, Umashankar. And no, it does not sound vain; it sounds like the voice of an honest and conscientious citizen speaking and one that we should all aspire to be. And who said that the path of truth and honesty is easy. Bravo Umashankar, you are an inspiration here.

  3. The thing is we all are corrupt, we have not even left god out of iy, thank god we cant see god else we would have sold him too..

    You are right its now the one who takes but the one who gives who is also corrupt, we all do it when the need hits on head we all do it.

    Anna ji is fine but the team wel we have seen many of them in the team harbor individual ambitions.. Otherwise if they all are in same team and have same ambitions then why wil ramdev have a problem with kejriwal.

    I think the change has to start with people ..

    • Oh I think we have sold God too. :-) Or at least His/Her representations in idols and what not. Idol smuggling is the number one in the black market exports today from India.

  4. Well said. Perhaps that is the reason we are so numb to corruption, we know we would also probably do it, if only to get what we want done in an easier manner. If you can’t fight them, join them.
    It is sad that no one is immune from this, even the very poor have to pay bribes to get the simplest of tasks done. In a developed society of course, we would not have to do this on a regular basis to get people to do the jobs they are paid to do.
    I wonder if it was always like this even when the British were here, or did it start when they left us? I am curious as to when we noticed that such bribery was becoming necessary in our day to day lives and we continued to ignore it instead of nipping it in the bud then. Sometimes I feel that the politicians of today behave like the rajas of yore, lording it over us like they are our masters, answerable to no one, forgetting that we the people put them in power in the first place.

    • Nima, I recommend you a reading of the biography Claude Martin, the man who endowed the La Martiniere schools in Lucknow and Kolkate. You won’t believe it , but our public figures seem have drawn inspiration from the greed, opportunism and rapaciousness of the British and their Indian sycophants. You will a find a parallel for near every scam that has come to the public domain- from Bofors to the latest and everything in between. The public figures of that period must be the patron saints of today’s scoundrels.

      • Thanks, I will look for the book. Sad though that we picked up on and refined the bad qualities of the British instead of chucking those in favour of their better ones such as their discipline, love of their own country, and pulling together as a nation against foreign attack!

    • Thanks, Nima. We are so so numb because corruption has become a way of life and everybody is affected by it; only, the type of corruption that affects us differs. Srinayan has responded well to your question of corruption during colonial rule. I have only skimmed through the book that he refers to, but even that was enough give me an idea of how corruption has entrenched itself so well in the Indian society today. This is a legacy that the British have left us, and one that we have “improved” upon in a typically Indian way.

  5. Wow, Sudha! This is a completely different post from what we were used to. The fact of the matter is that we have become an amoral society. It is the “getting it done that matters” and not the means that are employed and one would find it extremely difficult to add to what you have already written. Let us try and change ourselves first by accepting that there is no easy way to our goal.

    • I do write about stuff other than travel, books, and music. :-) Maybe, you have just not read those posts.

      Accepting that “there is no easy way to our goal” is perhaps the most difficult for anyone to do, especially in these days of uncertainty and insecurity, most of which is artificially created. That is one of the reasons why corruption has reached the levels it has today.

  6. great post by this site nice.
    Now-a-days corruption can be seen everywhere
    When we talk of corruption in public life, it covers corruption in politics, state governments, central governments, “business, industry and so on.
    for prevent corruption please support anti corruption movement which is on progress by team Anna.
    fight against corruption

    • John, here are my views on support to Anna. Last year, at the height of the Anna frenzy, people woul proudly wear “I am anna caps”, ride three or four on a two wheeler, jump signals, ride the wrong way and cheering as they did so. This is not the message that I believe in. The fight against corruption begins with us. We have to resist the temptation to “jump the queue “. We may not like to hear this; but our middle class views all services and facilities as entitlements which they should not expected to work for. It is something like “Ask not what you can do foryour country, but what your country can do for you”.
      I respect Anna’s success in bringing corruption to the forefront of our public discourse. But the Lokpal Bill is not the solution. His team- many of whom have served with distinction as public servants- should know that institution rebuilding is the need of the hour.
      The Lokpal bill also assumes that we will remain a corrupt sociey and adopts a ” I will remain a crook, catch me if you can”. Sorry Anna, that is not the way it is or ever will be.

    • Welcome here John, and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. Corruption covers every walk of life and then some more. Anna Hazare has done a great service by bringing the issue out in the open and forcing everyone to have a opinion on it.

      However, the Jan Lokpal Bill is extremely short-sighted as it only targets one section of our corrupt society. It is not a magic Bill, that if this section is brought under public eye and forced to be transparent everybody else will fall in line. We have a long history of corruption and corrupt practices behind us. Some of these practices have changed methods and ways. What is to stop the same from happening with the coming of the Jan Lokpal Bill.? No John, however idealistic it sounds, the change has to come from within us and we all have to practice that change.

  7. Such a thoughtful post! And so true! I agree with everything you’ve written.

    Yes, there are many faces of corruption. And our society today displays all of them at various times.

    • Thank you, Manju. Glad to find that the post is resonating with so many people. I wonder when we will stop seeing so many faces of corruption, if at all.

  8. Made me squirm and want to dig my head in the ground in shame but then realised that it would be too hard to dig because all the water has been mined by water mafias and big builders. We are all guilty of little and big acts of corruption since it is not just about money and bribes, but is within us — in our way of thinking, acting and judging others, as you have pointed out. There is nothing you have left out of this wonderfully comprehensive and hard-hitting post. Only you could have done it this well. *respect*

    • I agree. Come to think it, why not take a cue from the sticker that drivers so proudly display on windshields, ” I am proud to follow the traffic rules” ? We could wear a T-shirt that says, “I will not pay a bribe” when we walk into a governement office. Do you think the message will go across? Jaago re !

    • Zephyr, I’m humbled by your comments. Thank you so much, it means a lot to me. This post was triggered when an acquaintance told me about the “plum posting” her son had obtained in one of the most corrupt departments of an organisation in Mumbai. She told me very openly that the future of her family and the generations to come was now assured.

  9. Hmmm. I would also call the movement that baburao hazare’s face today represents a contextual, complex and multi layered one. Everyone wants to fight corruption, but they are left wordlessly gesticulating and waving flags when you ask them how exactly they want to fight corruption (not an attack, but merely venting about the hypocrisy and bigotry of the youths – sponsored or otherwise – who made a spectacle when the movement was at its peak). I have been suspicious about this movement from the moment I realised that holding a country ransom with a fast sets dangerous precedent. (Before angry assertions start pouring in about Gandhi – I have one word – CONTEXT)

    The movement is a mirror, a symptom of something that has gripped society and civilisation since it began. I would even go as far as to say that corruption is inherent (batman needs a joker, yin and yang). Bribes are one thing and I often find it mildly disturbing that this is used as the champion of the ‘corrupt’ cause. (Of course @umashankar I’m with you completely with your assertion and integrity. Also, I’m saying that corruption’s roots are fed by the soil of class, caste, religion and gendered discrimination and discrepancy). Bribes become an inevitable part of an oppressive an unreasonable system which values blue collar laundering over basic services and welfare. (I’m harking to the argument that reiterates the abysmally low salary of policemen and government servants, the terrible disparities highlighted by the existence of a mall right next to an urban slum). Marx’s ideas on the primitive accumulation of capital have warned us about it’s disastrous consequences decades ago. We don’t seem to have learnt. There is a line from a film called the American President, which resonates in my mind whenever I think of this movement. It is a terribly demeaning line in terms of its implication of ‘the people’ and their complete lack of agency. This is what leaves me furious – the fact that we seem to only fulfill his prophecy:

    Lewis Rothschild: They don’t have a choice! Bob Rumson is the only one doing the talking! People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they’ll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They’re so thirsty for it they’ll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there’s no water, they’ll drink the sand.

    President Andrew Shepherd: Lewis, we’ve had Presidents who were beloved who couldn’t find a coherent sentence with two hands and a flashlight. People don’t drink the sand ’cause they’re thirsty. They drink the sand ’cause they don’t know the difference.

    The idea of the mob, the herd is a dangerously regressive one (riots and stampedes at big sales, however, continually remind us that this is a flawed assertion). But how else can you explain a momentary frenzy, a vague self righteousness buoyed by what I call middle class mithya? A media spectacle orchestrated and cast in the shadow of reality television? a misplaced masculine patriotism that almost borders on a right wing fascist tendency?

    I was one of those who wore the Main Anna Hazare nahin hoon T shirt. Not to critique the movement but to open up debate. I was wrong. I could see that it would only set up polarities and trigger off angry flag wavers screaming vande mataram. There are too many problems with the movement for me to discuss in a comment. Refer to articles published by Open, countercurrents, caravan and Kafila.

    I’m not saying corruption is good. I’m saying we have to delve deeper. We have to stop drinking the sand and figure out what is the specific angle of sunlight that has created this mirage.

    Moreover, most importantly, the tools are there! We have enough constitutional power to do right. We are blind to it. The big change happens in smaller pockets in smaller ways. Jumping on to the bandwagon is the lazy option.

    We tend to question the larger explosions. not the smaller processes that cause them. of course, it is a transformation at the individual level. But the only true revolution is of the mind.

    Sorry for the excessively verbose comment. Your blog as always set off a train of thought that’s been threatening to reach it’s destination junction :)

    • Wow, Teevramadhyam. Your comment could be a post in itself. :-)

      I feel that the reason Anna Hazare was so well received was because he seemed like a messiah. And one that promised a quick fix solution to a problem that everyone was tired of. Now, where existing constitutional processes have failed, how could Anna succeed? Besides, he was taking on a corrupt system who had everything at stake to not let Anna succeed.

      You talk about context when discussing fasts setting a dangerous precedent. Well, Anna’s supporters do not see it that way and fasts (or blackmailing) and protests is a very legitimate way for them.

      And those lines from American President? Chilling.

  10. Brilliant post… While Anna’s revolution seems to have mellowed down the fact remains that just as in corruption the common man has learnt to accept the rule of the land. We as humans want to see changes fast, we are impatient and after a year of fasts and mochas when nothing happened everyone seems to have given up. These things take time and fasts are not always the only way. While Anna fights using fasts, someone like my father caught by getting government officials caught for asking bribe, and someone else might fight corruption by simply not paying bribe for his/her traffic fine. Things take time and everyone needs to make an effort the best way they can.

    • Thanks, Raghav. It does takes time, effort and patience for change to happen. And patience is something that most of us are running out of. And that’s where each one of us deals with it in our own way. Hopefully, all these different ways will coalesce at some critical point to bring about that important change.

  11. I think we as a Society fail in various ways that create the soil for corruption to flourish. In fact I had written a post on this earlier. The most important failing, in my opinion, is that we respect the possessors of wealth regardless of how the wealth has been acquired. Thus, ‘Those who can earn, those who cannot will cheat’. (I am quoting myself here, who else will :) ). When we start respecting what people are doing more than what they get out of it, there will be lesser motivation for corruption.

    • Those who can earn, those who cannot will cheat.

      Wow ! Your quote just about sums the general attitude towards wealth and possessors of that wealth. And in a society and generation that does not really stand by patience and hard work, preferring instant everything, bribing becomes a way of life. I also think that everyone of us must wait out our turn, be it in a queue, a registration, at the traffic signal…

      • How true! Those who can will never stoop to cheat or bribe! But come to think of it, we ALL CAN, but we choose not to, and this malaise that is present keeps the corruption going and making us more corrupt. I agree with previous comments that we are also to blame…..by choosing to keep mum and not ‘expose’ we join the dirty “C” gang! Just now, we are facing a similar problem of not caving in to mounting pressure to allot student seats to those who ‘recommend’. It is truly a tricky situation. Thank God for some of us who think and speak! I am sure there are many more who think, but do not speak due to various reasons……I wish they find their voice and we all make individual efforts to bring about collective change! More power to us! Thank you Sudha for giving us an opportunity to decide and re-decide to make a change!

        • Speaking for myself, I could have avoided the two times that I have bribed knowingly. The first time was for registering my house, which was done through a lawyer. He specified which part of the amount I paid him was his fees, the registration and stamp duty, and the bribe money. I remember breezing into the Registrar’s chamber for the registration and walking out after a few minutes, while so many other people waited outside. It is one the most shameful acts that I have done and something I am not proud of.

          The second time was when my passport was made. I went through the entire process without going through and agent or bribing someone, but at the time of delivery I was at work. The postman refused to hand over the passport to my mother in spite of an authorisation letter. So money exchanged hands.

          In both cases the bribing was avoidable, and I wish I had done it. These are moments that make me hang my head with shame. :-(

  12. A very thought provoking, conscious-pricking post Sudha. Everything that can be said has already been commented. My first experience with corruption was as a young teen on a holiday in Mangalore. I had accompanied my father and uncles to Malpe beach to buy some fish for the afternoon meal. One would go to the beach only if one needed large amounts and thus hope to get a decent bargain.
    We (children) were busy playing about when the older menfolk were negotiating for the basket( an assortment of species of varying sizes). Suddenly, we noticed pin-drop silence and our uncles looked stunned and angry. While, they were bargaining, one Gulfie stepped out of a car, waived a wad of 100 rupee notes – paid Rs.1000/- for fish worth 350/- , collected the basket and drove off – all this in a matter of two minutes! A case of people with more money, filthy display of wealth……
    My grandmother always maintained that petro-dollars brought corruption to her village…..life was never the same after that as values of loyalty, honesty, hard work started disappearing..
    She refused to compromise and would send her children and workers to go fishing more often if they wanted to eat fish.
    Yes, we need to change to bring about a change – a daunting and difficult task – maybe teaching better values to our children

    • That must have been some experience, Neena. And one that continues even today.

      I was buying coconuts for some festival at the market when a family just came by offered double the amount and walked away with all the coconuts. But there are two things here—the coconut vendor was known to me and I had been buying coconuts from him for 12 years. Nothing mattered to him—customer loyalty or the fact that I had never bargained with him, nothing. The vendor always had the option of saying no, but he did not. He was offered a “bribe” and he took it.

      I stopped buying coconuts from that guy and moved on to someone else. But there is no guarantee that this incident will not repeat itself in the near future.

  13. very good post, Sudha!!! and I so completely agree!!!! a couple of my friends and relatives were part of the anna movement last time, but this is the same reason i refused to go along. we can not enforce honesty by passing a bill.. the change has to come from each one of us…. and things do happen without paying a bribe. we just have to be well informed and persistent…. i refused to pay a donation for samhith, and put him a school where the fees may be high, but accounted for….in a city like bombay, we have bought a house without paying a penny in ‘black’… i have got my numerous id cards and docs without paying a single paise, but not many even beleive me when i say it is possible. the fact is that everyone is too much in a hurry to try to get their own things done.. and besides, they earn more, so its simply easier to pay someone for getting it done… and that is where it all begins!

    • Way to go, Anu. :-) Yours and Umashankar’s examples only go on to show that it can be done. I do believe that things can work out without paying bribes. All it needs is an the right attitude that one has to wait for their turn and out of turn settlements are an exception and not the norm. My brother waited for nearly 9 months to get his PF dues and the PF office led him on a merry dance. He was exceptionally patient and refused to take hints to bribe his way through.

      It may be easier to pay and get some work done, but it is like feeding something dangerous.

  14. Great post Sudhagee—-yes the briber is also at fault,but many a time he too has his limitations,no one would like to bribe if things worked according to a system……i think what we need more than anything else is,to punish the corrupt & confiscate the dirty moolah…..C Suresh has brought up a very valid point-the whole hierarchy today revolves around wealth & status symbols …you must have seen how the filthiest scamsters go jauntily to the courts,come out laughing,& are followed by hordes of shameless admirers to the prison-not an iota of remorse on their visage….our character is licking dirt today .

    • Thanks, Indu. I will not agree with you on the point on the limitations of the briber: there is always a choice and to bribe is a conscious choice made for whatever reasons. Somewhere over the years, we have become so used to bribing and those receiving bribes so used to getting one that it has become an established procedure. We are part of the system, and if a system demands a bribe the same system should be turned around to work without a bribe.

      We have to learn to say “NO”.

  15. Fabulous, hard-hitting post, Sudhagee! You have shown all of us the mirror. Indeed, who amongst us is not corrupt? It is the degree that matters. When I saw that last episode of Satyamev Jayate, I felt truly ashamed. Ashamed because I don’t do enough; I don’t have enough determination; and petty excuses hold me back! Thank you for this wonderful post. I hope that at least some of us will feel ashamed enough to bring about real changes!

    • Welcome here, Ghazala Hossain, and thank you for stopping by and commenting. Yes, we collectively suck as a nation and are a pretty sad lot too. But I always hold out to hope for better future. No matter what, I will never give that up.

    • Thank you, Amit. We all are responsible in big or little ways for this sad state of out country. And it is our responsibility to change that in small or big ways.

  16. Fantastic post…. and so very true. Every Indian needs to introspect and see how he’ or she is contributing to corruption. Merely tackling the Kalmadis and Rajas won’t be enough if the general mindset steers towards being corrupt in every walk of life.

    http://e-pinion.blogspot.in

    • Welcome here, Ash, and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. You have put it very aptly when you say that merely tackling the Rajas and Kalmadis is not enough. We have to tackle the Kalmadis and the Rajas in our minds as well. Thank you once again.

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