Practicality of a Corrupt Life

There is so much of discussion on corruption in India that the news media is swamped with coverage of various incidents and happenings related to corruption or the public fight against corruption.

Yes, it is important to remove corruption from public life, simply because it increases the cost of operation, apart from being an unethical practice.

But I would like to ask this to fellow Indians living in India – can you touch your heart and vouch that you have never paid a bribe, even to win the simplest of favours from a government servant ? How many of them can say that they have led a Gandhian life till now, and have never paid a penny and will never ever pay a penny to win a personal favour or to win business ? I doubt that there will be many hands going up.

In our normal lives, we want to be practical, and that is the essence of a normal life in India. Otherwise our lives would be abnormal. Let us take a couple of instances – you made a mistake on the road and the traffic cop stops your vehicle. He follows procedure, asks you why you were on the wrong lane (for instance), and asks to see your driving license, then moves away from your car with the license in hand towards his motor bike, opens his chargesheet book and starts writing seriously.You follow him anxiously and try to intervene in his work, he says sorry nothing can be done, you carry this receipt and then pay the fine and collect your license from this court. What do you do ? 90% of Indians would try to bribe the policeman. I don’t know the statistics, but most Indians would like to get back the license then and there, not liking the prospect of going to some far off place and paying the fine and then only manage to get the license back – you might have to stand in a long queue.

What do you do ?

You pull out some 100 rupees or more (depending on the severity of the traffic violation) and pass it to the policeman. Who is corrupt here and who is trying to corrupt ? YOU, not the policeman, he never asked for any money in the first place.

What does this tell you ? Indians are generally, personally corrupt when it comes to themselves – they try to get out of tricky situations by bribing their way out.

What happens in registration offices when you try to register purchase / sales of your apartment, or land ? What happens in the motor vehicle registration office ? What happens when the property tax inspector visits your home ? And, countless other situations which arise in daily lives in India. These situations may not arise in developed countries, as the contact between the governed and the government is not much – very few and mostly electronic. But not in India. Even if you have a digital signature, certain things cannot be done electronically. One such thing is the rendering of bribe to complete one’s own personal work.

Let us be very clear. We can accuse the government of corruption, but first we must clean our own house of corruption and corrupt practices. I am reminded of the situation when I purchased a car nearly 4.5 years ago in Mumbai and the car dealer asked me to pay Rs 2,500 to “facilitate” quick registration. I know it could not be avoided but refused to pay. Later I learnt that the facilitation fee was indeed paid by the car dealer. I know if that is not done, the registration could not have been completed on time. Even this act of “knowing” is equivalent to corruption – whether you knew it beforehand or came to know about it later. I understand nothing can be done by a common individual when presented with a fait accompli, but recognition of the fact is critical and something must be done when similar situations come up in the future.

So, where are we as Indians ? It is still a corrupt life and we are trying to be “practical” ? Will the Indians who joined the recent protests against corruption, avoid paying any bribe in their lives ?

Let us think through.


Vijay Srinivasan
9th April 2011


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