The newspapers are suddenly full of it. People are full of it. The very air is full of it! Corruption, that is a way of life, is under verbal assault. Will words give way to action? I am by nature a pessimist. That way, if good results, I can be pleasantly surprised!
One newspaper announced, “If you have never paid a bribe, influenced a decision, paid black money towards purchase of a flat … write to us about your experience.” I thought back to my one experience of holding out in order to obtain a ‘bribe free’ ration card – my right as a domiciled national. That one incident cured me of expectation. That is how bad it is.
My father, a stern individual who tolerated no grey between right and wrong, also learnt this lesson the hard way. A pensioner of the Indian Army, he would walk the half hour distance to the Pay& Accounts office only be told by the peon that the necessary forms were not available. Father would diligently walk to and fro each day, only to be given the same reply. When he found out that others had obtained the forms by the simple expedient of greasing the peon’s palm, he was furious. He rebuked the organization but to no avail. Lethargy and corruption are two sides of the same coin. Father needed his pension to survive. Reluctantly he succumbed. But not without a sarcastic comment about ‘chai pani’ to the peon, who smirked in response. Considering the number of government pensioners at any given time, that peon must have raked in the moolah. This was thirty-five years ago.
Yes, I have paid a bribe for an out of turn gas cylinder (six months of cooking on a kerosene stove cured me of holding out), I have paid a bribe for an out of turn telephone connection (that was in the time before mobile phones and considering that all my neighbours treated my home as a public call booth, I more than paid for that ‘crime’) and yes, I paid a cash component towards the purchase of a flat – I needed a roof over my head and no builder, then, ever sold a flat on ‘cheque only’ payments. The tax component made the final price prohibitive. And that tax component was actually ‘fixed’ by the dealing officer who deliberately set a higher penalty in order to receive something under the table for a considerable reduction. You learnt to subvert the law in order to avoid a bribe! When I spoke to an officer of the Income Tax about it, he replied. “Madam, even I have paid cash for my flat. I cannot say so openly but everyone knows.”
Even when all is in order, the powers that be hold out and harass till they get what they want. So deep-rooted is corruption that one is suspicious of anything that comes without a price.
And as long as there is need, as long as there is greed, as long as there are those who can sniff opportunity and exploit it, there will always be those who take from givers willing and reluctant, able and unable.
Only those who have nothing or want nothing could ever be free from corruption. Given our vulnerability to need, would that ever be possible?