Like many of the people in India, I was impressed and carried away by the Anna Hazare movement against corruption – for the first two days. But the longer I thought about it, the more uncomfortable I felt. I tried hard to find a reason for my discomfort, which ranged from Anna using non-Gandhian means under a Gandhian flag to Anna’s autocratic rule of the village from which he hails. It was only recently that I was able to correctly articulate the reason for my discomfort – shirking responsibility.
What the “India Against Corruption” movement was doing was to absolve the common man of any responsibility or part in the corruption that is so rampant in our society. It was as if only the people on the other side of the desk were corrupt and the common man was merely a victim or spectator.
The truth is that we can say No.
Corruption is so much a part of our lives that we hardly notice it at times. Before the age of the multiplex theatre, we would pay marked up prices for movie tickets in the black market. There was no need to do it, but we did. Today that form of corruption has been legalized where movie halls charge a premium for tickets during the first couple of weeks after a movie’s release. They do that because we showed them that we were ready to pay a premium over the marked price.
Paying a bribe is a choice, a conscious choice. We decide whether something is worth paying a bribe for.
Every day, in airports around the country, the same charade is played out. People coming into the country from abroad bring in things over the allowed limits – which are very clearly called out in the customs web page. Then they get angry that the customs official asked them for a bribe. We can refuse to pay the bribe, pay the full customs duty and ask for a receipt. They cannot deny us that. But we pay the bribe instead because it saves us money. So why complain? Did we want to bring it in free? If we did, that is against the law of the country. Why should it be different when we come into India than when we enter another country? We do not carry cooked foods to countries that don’t allow it.
A bribe is not wrong per se, it is merely the premium for a service that is illegal.
Let us ask ourselves what do we REALLY mean by asking government officials to be uncorrupt. Do we mean that they should follow the letter of the law? Or do we mean that they should let us do what we like without asking us to pay for it?