The big news in India these days is Anna Hazare and the anti-corruption movement. He is holding a public fast (with threats to carry his fast unto death if the government doesn’t meet his demands), and many others have joined him. While I was in Delhi a few days ago, I encountered a spontaneous demonstration or two, though I never made it over to the Ram Lila Grounds, which is the main venue for the protest that has formed around Hazare’s fast. Considering the enormous numbers of people camped out there and visiting, it’s probably just as well.
Some people feel that it’s not the right way to go about changing the system—that he’s circumventing democracy. That’s true enough on one level, but it’s not the whole story. The problem is that so many of the elected representatives of the people have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo, and they have aggressively dragged their feet on this issue for more than 40 years. Those who are corrupt obviously don’t want to be held accountable.
The Lokpal Bill is a proposed anti-corruption law that is being debated. However, it isn’t as strong as it might be, so social activists have proposed an alternate bill, referred to the as the Jan Lokpal Bill (Jan means ‘people’ or ‘citizens’) that is intended to more effectively deter corruption, protect whistle-blowers and also redress grievances. However it plays out, there will surely be improvements in the way the government functions.
Personally, I feel that even if the method isn’t ideal, the fact that the government is being forced to take action is a very, very good thing. Corruption is deeply embedded in Indian life. It’s not just a matter of big scams, embezzlement, etc. The average person shells out bribes for many things. For many people, it’s a few hundred or a few thousand rupees a month. Bribes to get the police and other officials to do their duty. Bribes to get officials to look the other way or to bend the rules. Bribes to transfer real estate. Bribes to get a driver’s license without taking a test. Bribes to get into a good school. Bribes to cut through mountains of red tape. Bribes to grease the wheels of bureaucracy. It’s endless.
I’ve never paid bribes and have seldom been asked directly for them, although there have certainly been times when it was obvious that a little baksheesh could have made things much easier. However, there have been a couple of instances where it seemed that bribes may have been paid on my behalf—but my friends refused to tell me how they accomplished the apparently impossible. I always recommend not paying bribes, because paying bribes only perpetuates the miseries of a corrupt system.
Anyway, more and more people are realizing how much corruption affects their lives and I would say that the movement has finally gained sufficient momentum that it has become unstoppable. It makes me happy to see Indians rebelling against the tyranny of corruption.