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Countering Corruption

In India, no one bats an eyelid at forking up money to get a job done. Need a license? Pay the tout and escape the line. Need your passport fast tracked? There are rates and systems in place. It works far more efficiently than the official one. One of the reasons that corruption has taken such a strong hold in the country is the perception of privilege. If you can bypass the hordes, you create the illusion of power. And everyone wants to exercise that whenever they can. No executive worth his salt will stand in a queue to get a ticket – his flunkey will. Even to check into the flight, there was a standby, until the security restrictions kicked in and allowed only the actual passenger in. The actor at a film shoot has a man standing by to hold his umbrella, his packet of cigarettes, even his mobile phone as the first filter. In India, if you do everything yourself, you are seen as a chump, or a person too poor to pay a bribe. This must be the only country in the world where ‘unreserved’ train compartments arrive with touts guarding all the seats and giving them up for a price. The system is so ingrained that by the time you grow into an adult, you have either learned to wait patiently in queues or bypass them altogether.

So, while the whole nation celebrates Anna Hazare’s victory over the government in drafting a stiff anti-corruption bill, I suspect that changing behaviour on the ground will be next to impossible to crack. Menial jobs are highly in demand owing to our staggering population numbers and all forms of automation are frowned upon since they directly impact jobs at the basic level. Ward boys are paid to get admission to government hospitals. Coolies at railway stations ensure that trolleys are not available for regular passengers. It’s curious – trolleys are available at all airports but you won’t see a single one at railway or bus stations.And the less said about several education institutions, the better. They have evolved a byzantine system that accepts only the regular government mandated fees through cheques. The rest has to be paid in cold, hard cash. For a lot of parents whose children never make it to the merit lists, this is the easy alternative.

So, while the Jan Lok Pal bill will be passed under pressure and everyone celebrates, India’s journey to a corruption free society still has to take place in the mind. When we decide to stand in a queue instead of breaking it, when we refuse to pay the cop to escape a traffic fine, when we study to get the marks we deserve, when we register our land at the correct value, when we stop believing that money can buy everything in this country.

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