I had to think hard about the direct ways in which corruption raised its head before me. Indirectly – well, we can go on and on about the lacking infrastructure, the unjustified taxes, the food inflation, rich-poor divide, ….. But when it comes to directly facing it, I have been lucky!
The first time was immediately after marriage when we were setting up the house and got the BSNL telephone connection set up in the house. The person in charge of our area told us that the ‘box’ in our street was full and would not be able to support one more connection. This was way before Airtel and other companies had dominated the market and so we had no other option. We starting doubting the intentions of the officer (the cynicism in us is hard to suppress), but were pleasantly surprised when he offered the WLL connection as an alternative. Ours would be the first house to get this kind of connection, he said. We were elated and doubtful again.. A new technology might mean more delay and bribe-money. We were proved wrong on the delay part atleast. The set was installed within a week’s time. The linemen were friendly and didn’t ask for any money, or so I thought! They asked for some ‘chai-paani’. A was a little taken aback and I couldn’t understand why. I actually asked them to stay and have tea + snacks with us. A was amused and I still couldn’t understand why! Finally they had tea, murmered something amongst themselves and left!!! Of course, later I was explained through uncontrolled laughter about what the chai-paani actually meant!
The second time was during my identity verification for passport. The police came and found me missing (since I was in office at that time) and went back. This happened for a couple of times and afraid that they might revoke the application, I went to the police station. Again, they ‘hinted’ at how much trouble they had taken in coming to our house and yet they are not appreciated, how hard their job is, and so on. I was not sure whether they were telling or asking … I decided not to understand, finished my job and came back happy!!
The third time was a little more difficult since by then I was aware of what the terminology is! I had my jewelery stolen (which was later recovered) and it had to be requested back from the Honorable Court. The police asked me to produce the receipts of the jewelery which I couldn’t since they were the gifts for my wedding. They told me to get it done from some jeweler in town, with their help of course. I refused. The case went on for 4 years after which we did get the jewelery back. Here again the police went on telling me how difficult it was for them, how dangerous, and how tedious. They asked for ‘sweets’ . But this time I was not to be fooled and told them that I was in hurry since I had to meet my husband!! I rushed out from the police station, put the jewelery in my scooter’s box and just sped away! A little shaken from happiness in getting my stuff back and also refusing to contribute to the corrupt practices!
And then there was my DL (learner’s) to be issued. We avoided going to an agent and getting it without giving the test. Instead, we preferred to stand in the long queue, pay the usual fees, appear for the test and get the DL (learner’s) along with the smile of satisfaction.
Why did we do it? Did we not have money to give to the people who asked for? Ok, there were times when I didn’t understand the ‘request’ but on instances when I did, it repelled me. How can you ask money for something which is your job? You are not doing any favor by signing the required documents. It does take time if you don’t pay bribe. But isn’t it all worth it? If they complain against low salaries and cite it as the reason for their corrupt behavior, do they also suggest what a really poor man should do? They don’t spare him either. So if they want us to ‘understand’ why they are asking for bribe, shouldn’t they themselves ‘understand’ the plight of those who are unable to pay? By encouraging them at a lower level, aren’t we giving rise to bigger thieves who go on to become politicians and bureaucrats? Why do we curse them? Aren’t they a part of our own society and haven’t we contributed to their growth? If we have to fight against corruption, we should first fight against our own attributes that encourage it.