Published on Intrepid Report, by Prakash Kona, October 26, 2012.
… In a congenitally corrupt social order, to speak against corruption is like looking for fresh water in the middle of the ocean. The higher level corruption is a criminal enterprise; the middle level corruption is about greed; the lower level corruption is a combination of imitating the higher-ups and about day-to-day needs. The thing with a country like India is that those who want power wish to keep it because they can get money. There is no notion of power that can be used for social good. Simply none.
Part of the desperate urge in me to be cynical comes from the fact that I haven’t seen power being used to do any good for the masses except in a piecemeal fashion. You would expect those who come from weak and deprived backgrounds to know better. But, they don’t. I mean, they do. But, they couldn’t care less. Corruption is one thing that unites India as a nation. Across caste, religion, language and other barriers—we are corrupt. Period.
There are countries in the world where those who are caught in acts of corruption commit suicide out of a sense of shame. If something like that would ever happen in India where the corrupt are ready to take their lives out of the shame of being caught, it would actually solve the population problem in this country. The general lack of honor among the Indian corrupt is because they find acceptance at the social level which does not happen in more honest societies.
A deeply corrupt society will not produce decent leaders or administrators. For all the virtue of this article, I’ve given bribes or at least praised completely unethical characters because it suited me to do so. I’m not even poor, so to say. If I did it, without any attempts to justify, it is because I thought I must mind my own business and get things done as quickly as possible. More importantly, we don’t want to tell the corrupt that they are corrupt. Our feudal sense of loyalty prevents us from telling people what they should be hearing because we don’t want to deal with the consequences one way or the other. This incredible tolerance of corruption among South Asians is appalling to say the least. It’s not really tolerance but a weak, self-centered social order that knows itself only too well. The question in India: who isn’t corrupt is a fair question at the end of the day.
All this does not mean that I think corruption cannot be fought or should not be addressed. Only that I don’t think it can be legally or politically addressed. Corruption is a social problem and the lack of personal ethics in a country like India is that anything is justified as long as it’s about abusing the norms to suit my purposes. Nepotism for instance is a normal thing among South Asians because we don’t believe in separating the private from the public. With my own eyes I’ve seen people defy rules and regulations with impunity and give jobs to the members of their families or their caste or subcaste, their friends or relatives, people of their region or religion, their wives, lovers or paramours etc—and no one sees a contradiction in all of this. This is perfectly accepted social behavior. The whole idea behind why people in India want power is so that they could be corrupt. We leave the ranting-against-corruption parts to the mentally stunted film heroes on the Indian screen that are still caught in the breast-feeding stage.
The real issues surrounding corruption are directly connected to social injustice. India should be against social injustice before it is against anything else. Injustice is that fertile bed that makes corruption a reality. To begin with, it is the unjust that are the most corrupt. Social norms carry no meaning to them. Power is an end itself and there is no word like conscience at that level. This applies to the rich and the middle-order corruption. The corruption of the poor is forgivable (even though it is still an existential choice) only because there is no reason why they should be honest while everyone else above them is a bloody thief. We can’t be giving morality to the poor and money to the rich. That’s grossly unfair.
The corrupt are a community unto themselves. They subscribe to the same values across South Asia irrespective of religion, caste, language, ethnicity or region. Therefore they must be resisted. They cannot be resisted however in an unjust system where some gain at the expense of the many. Corruption is symptomatic at many levels of deep-seated injustice. If the cops in New Zealand don’t take bribes it is because among the average New Zealanders there is no culture of bribery as such. How can we expect an average policeman in India not to take bribes when there is a culture of rampant bribery at every level?
Women across the board give dowries to the men in order to get married. What sense does it make to criminalize the dowry system through laws where no one thinks it is fundamentally unethical to give or to take dowry? The first thing that ought to be done is to prevent women from becoming victims of a male-dominated society. Where that is not achieved any criticism of dowry is bound to be superficial at best. In summary I’m convinced that only in an India that is against injustice of any sort that corruption can be fought the way one would fight an epidemic and the corrupt effectively prevented from spreading the malaise.