While growing up, I was always told not to give in to corruption. As a child, I never knew what exactly corruption was. Therefore, grew up believing governments, and ALL government officials are corrupt. The belief was so strong that I dreaded interacting with government officials thinking that they will either fleece my money or they will not help. I don’t exactly remember how this belief formed, but I remember people around me saying things like “India has gone down the drain”, “Government is the most corrupt of all”, “government officials are money suckers, they will only take action on things where they could earn hefty amount of money”, “how will reforms happen if most of the money gets divided among politicians, law and order folks, and media”, “media is sold”, “police is useless” etc. I think hearing all these constantly, formed my opinion about corruption. I dreaded going to any government office. As I grew up and moved to a different city for studies, I had to visit a gazetted officer for some official signatures. I was terribly scared and kept thinking repeatedly in my head, what will I do if he asks for bribe? What will I do if he refuses to sign it? What if he screws up my papers? What if this and what if that? Fortunately, none of these happened, he signed the documents happily and also wished me luck for my new phase of life. That’s when for the first time my belief of “all government officials are corrupt” was challenged.
Few more years passed by, and I had to visit the Passport Seva Kendra. Again, the FEAR demon in my head kept scaring me with what will happen? What will I do if he asks for bribe? What will I do if he refuses to sign it? What if he screws up my papers? What if this and what if that? However, I managed to submit my forms without greasing the palms of any officials. Then came the Police verification, and I suffered from highest order of fear… Police station! OMG! What if they put me behind the bars, what would I do? Everyone around me had the same opinion too. DO NOT go to the police station alone… especially because you are a girl! I was lucky enough to be back from the police station without any scratches on my body or soul! (pun intended). Though the process of getting a passport was a herculean task in those days, I received it within a couple of weeks, without much hassle and most importantly without paying any bribe.
My next encounter was with the Commercial Tax department. This time I was told, keep aside around Rs. 15,000-20,000, if you want to get the VAT registration done. I was taken aback again! I told my CA, I cannot handle a bribe taking official, I will definitely lose my cool. She was considerate enough to send her associate along with me who knew well “how to handle them”. Eventually, I stayed away from the ‘deal’ and only focused on answering whatever doubts, questions they had, and the signatures they needed.
Frankly speaking, something bothered me every time I interacted with a government official. I think it was an innate sense of fear and the hatred originating from whatever I have been hearing around me. When I analyze was the fear and hatred justifiable? I don’t think so. Was there any valid reason for this fear? Yes, there were. However, the reasons were mostly from the stories heard from someone, or from over dramatic Bollywood movies. From my own experience, I found government officials a mixed bag, like any other human being or even other species on earth. I do not find them alien anymore. My belief of “all government officials are corrupt” has been broken successfully and I am not terrified of them anymore.
Does that mean, there is no corruption in the country? No at all. There is definitely rampant corruption in our country. It is manifestation of corruption when a famous man gets away with crores of Rs. of fraud, but middle class is being harassed to provide proof of their savings in the bank. It is manifestation of corruption when a Politician’s relative gets away with beating someone for no reason, just because he is Politician’s relative. It is manifestation of corruption that convicted murderers rule our states and a clean government official wanting to change the system gets shot down by the media. It is manifestation of corruption, when the schools and colleges ask you for hefty amount of money in the name of “development fees” without having to justify where is it going to get used for. It is manifestation of corruption when a government official demands bribe to do a job for which s(he) receives salary and more…
It is also corruption when we, the common wo(man) jump queues or jump traffic signals. It is manifestation of corruption when we are confident that the government officials will not do their job unless we paid a bribe. So we ask “Sir/madam, what’s your rate?” Or, when we say “It’s ok, iss desh mein sab chalta hain!” (In this country all this is ok). Or, when we evade tax by employing devious tax saving tricks. Or, when we teach our children, its ok to bend rules, or break them. We are there to find a loophole and bring them out of trouble. We become like the Politician who assures his people that he doesn’t support his rowdy relative, but sneakily helps him get away.
So what’s the solution? Or, is there any solution at all? Off course there is, at least I believe so. Is it going to be easy? Not really. Let me explain it through a metaphor. In earlier days we used to have Malaria or Cholera Epidemics which would wipe out the entire town or city. People dreaded them, however, not all societies could do much about them. Some societies did control these, and eventually wiped these out. Do you know how did they manage to do it? They deployed multifold cautionary measures. Individuals were told to watch out for their hygiene, stay at home when sick, make sure they don’t become the carriers of it. At the same time the government deployed collective measures to come up with new vaccines, cleanliness drives etc. to manage these epidemics in an effective way. Something similar is needed to control and eradicate today’s epidemic of corruption.
We need individuals to make sure they do their part by taking honest routes to get their work done, and personally avoid breaking or bending rules. At the same time we need government to come up with people friendly rules that make it easier for people to follow and abide by. The focus needs to be commoners and not just a section of the society. We live in a democratic society and hence the rules should be democratic too, not anarchic. The rules should reduce red tapes and be transparent. Every human being should be treated with mutual respect irrespective of their caste, creed, class, financial condition, position is the government and society etc. Making sure that the authorities are answerable too will make it more trustworthy. We already have RTI and RTE, we just need to make sure they are accessible and easily usable by everyone. Along with these we need more such initiatives that make people’s lives easy and hassle free.
Once, these measures are deployed we will eventually wipe out corruption through our collective and systematic efforts.
The BIG question is: Are we committed to do it? I am, what about you?