On the 6th of December, 2009, India broke South Africa’s stranglehold on test cricket, much to the joy of millions of sporting enthusiasts in the country. Firecrackers went off in many inner city neighborhoods, and the television media loved the occasion; it was, after all, another chance to create a sensational story.
Optimism and hope ran high in the aftermath of India’s ascension to the top of the test cricket rankings. But unfortunately, the country is close to the top in another set of rankings, one that is a cause for despair, not hope. India ranks a dismal 84th in a list of 180 countries, according to Transparency International’s 2009 Corruption Perceptions Index, a measure of domestic and public sector corruption.
For a country that hopes to see itself as a world superpower by 2020, this is dismal news. Corruption stifles the economy and the ease of doing business in the country – it cost the Indian economy an estimated Rs. 350 billion in 2005. But more importantly, it stifles the innovative capacity of the populace. The dismal levels of citizen involvement and aid work in the country can, at least in part, be attributed to corruption. The desire to alter the status quo has become estranged from the ability to do so, because ideas that effect change must go through bureaucrats, who are often corrupt and agonizingly apathetic, before they become reality.
Closing the gap between dreaming and doing
Corruption and bureaucracy have become intertwined. But fortunately, their marriage is not irrevocable. Mobile media, emergence of the internet and the thoroughly democratic nature of Indian politics has enabled increased transparency, and can potentially reduce the level of corruption in the country.
Many people now possess mobile phones equipped with a video recorder. These make for great tools to expose corrupt officials. Anonymous users can take a video of an official asking for bribe and then post it on YouTube or send it to Youth Ki Awaaz. A link of this video can then be emailed to the Ministry of Home Affairs, with a copy of the email sent to media networks to ensure follow up.
Pushing for regulatory legislation
Citizens can push for legislation to ensure that paperwork gets through within a stipulated amount of time. Write to your representative and lobby groups to push for legislation that makes it mandatory for officials to complete the processing of a document within a given time. Or best, file an RTI.
Corruption remains a hallmark of our bureaucracy largely because of passive support from the masses. In our desire to get work done faster, we do not resist when asked for a bribe. All efforts to combat corruption will be rendered useless unless the public stops kowtowing to unscrupulous practices.
It is possible, perhaps probable, that none of the ideas listed above will work. But social change is not always about working towards what is easily possible. It is about idealism and solving problems creatively. It is about the masses coming together and working for a common goal. And it is about actualizing the improbable. If you have ideas on how corruption can be decoupled from the Indian bureaucracy (or as the inspirational World Toilet Organization founder Jack Sim likes to call it – bureau-crazy) please add your comments below.
Martin Luther King Jr. famously said that change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for it. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent. It has been a while since we have walked tall as a society, without the added weight of corrupt bureaucrats on our back. It is high time for the masses to mobilize themselves. And once that happens, things are bound to change. I hope, I believe.