The Bribelands

Recently I completed the circle of life in handing out bribes and I want to pay homage to the “system”. A system including myself that puts the onus on the receiver to reward the provider for performing an act. An act which was part of the duties of the said provider and which was already being compensated for.

For the sake of legality and sanity, read this like a story. All these are alleged acts that may or may not have transpired in real life. If you are a person with any kind of office – treat the content below as pure fiction and the ramblings of a mad man. You can stop reading at this time and go back to work or entertainment.

For the rest of you at the same position as me – you will understand the exact message that needs to be told.

After all, we live and die in such a world.

The Trigger

So, this happened.

I handed over five times the stipulated amount to the concerned at a certain crematorium for the last rites of a loved family member.

I did not blink at being asked for “something”. I had forgotten to show emotions or even twitch at the act. It was all but natural.

I come home, the process through the thoughts for a few days, and then it dawned on me. I had achieved a milestone in life – I had completed the circle of life in handing out bribes.

The Re-realisation

I come from the Great Indian Middle-class of 1990s. While I did not have money to spend on clothes, movies and stuff, I had enough support to spend on college tuitions, books, cable TV and the like. While we did not have enough money to buy a house during my college days, we had enough to get through an occasional trip, visits to the restaurant, or to afford a then super-expensive computer – thanks to my parents.

And that just enough money also meant we valued time and convenience. Also, the Indian newspapers tell a decent enough story for anyone intelligent to understand what’s going on without as many words in print.

So, I was not new to the world of bribes. A world was not narrow by any extent but was mostly the domain of my parents. That changed when I started handling life events by myself.

I was part of a well-established tradition and well-oiled system. I was never far from the way things worked at key events.

  • Get a health certificate to join Engineering degree course. And yes, this has to be from a qualified professional in a Govt. institution
  • Get a driving license for a bike
  • Receive my marks card from the university after a 2-month delay (at the risk of losing my job offer on-campus)
  • Lodge a police complaint about a lost mobile phone/documents
  • Buy a bike and then a car
  • Buy a house
  • Get a marriage certificate
  • Get the birth certificate of my kids

Or, for most mundane of activities –

  • Cleaning the street and clearing out garbage. Cleaning the clogged pipes on the street, or fixing street lights
  • Getting an over-due payment for services/products

The system feeds itself and all its stakeholders at every level. A person who accepts a bribe for overlooking faulty road repairs is not enjoying that by himself, but pools it for his peers, supervisors, politicians at local, state and centre levels. Ask any of the people in institutions like RTO, Sub-registrar offices, or RTO – accounts are kept and “income” distributed amongst all, with a percentage pushed up the chain.

There is no consequence

I don’t see anyone flinch when a politician or an official of any authority takes a bribe – even in a cheque. We don’t get shocked by unaccounted money buried in toilets, their lands, and even in walls/house compounds. I don’t see any adverse reaction to people in power spending extremely huge amounts of money for parties and festivals other than the lip service offered at the altar of no one in particular.

I saw only people having a good laugh about it all when RTOs got occasionally raided by anti-corruption units and money was thrown out of windows. Or, when officials literally ate the money so that they were not caught with proof of the act.

All that considered I wonder my India is not the deepest of red in the index.

Source: Wikipedia. By SSYoung – Own work [1], CC BY-SA 4.0

There is no consequence of taking bribes – as long as the power sides with the person.

People have been dropped from investigation for no reason, people are investigated later for no apparent reason, and criminals and hapless foot-soldiers are secretly interviewed for future leverage.

Everyone at the receiving end of an unfair advantage realises just that one thing – have power, have leverage and face no consequences. Institutions, authority and power are used towards achieving that objective. Every, effing day.

Lalu Prasad Yadav is a good example of the rise and fall of a person who did what he did and landed where he is today. Things can go south and they keep going south all the way to the pole and beyond.

But, there are do-gooders

While I hold on to my cards about the system being too far ahead to change, there are plenty of examples shining through the darkness.

Our Passport office is one of the early success stories. The intervention through technology brought about a thorough change to queuing, processing and delivery systems.

IT department is yet another good story of transformation. Everything digitised = no visits to the department for silly reasons = no bribe changing hands.

And, there are shining stars of human beings. There are quite a few good officers in RTO, in Police, in sub-registrar offices, and other such institutions where corruption is universally accepted phenomenon. I had a pleasure to meet and interact with really good human beings who extended courtesy even when I was wrong. I hold them in high esteem for doing that to the commonest of the people.

But, but.. there seems to be no light in end of the tunnel

The current system is far too entrenched in its current doings for its own good. In all my optimism and for all of the peoples’ complaints, I do not think anyone wants any change.

People with means keep bribing others for convenience or to look the other way –

  • Get ahead of the queue for anything that legitimately requires a queue
  • Not renewing auto-insurance on time or for jumping the traffic signal
  • Getting certified on a skill without undergoing the due process to earn the certificate

And, for the most part – the system will not go away because we breed that with inaction.

  • Keep falling from our bikes at the same potholes
  • See our elders and children get hurt by the same footpaths
  • See the same garbage day after day, lying by the side and dumped on vacant lands
  • See people expecting even more rewards and feeling cheated when not being compensated enough – when their duties include compensation by the employer

We value convenience and we suffer because of it. We are not fully aware of our situation and “feel for the discrepancies” enough to care.

And please – don’t get overly defensive or offensive about any of this. It is not about which party or influencer came when. It is about the current state and what we are doing about it. You can feel disgusted and close the browser, but if you had been living in so-called “third world” country – you exactly know this. Don’t blame me, my society or my country.

So, what gives?

We can speak all we want about digitising the entire economy and start tracking the micro-transactions, but there are plenty of examples today where bribes are in services, in gold, or in farm animals.

Nope. I offer no solutions. Just – “wake up”.

Or, shift to a developed country where corruption is not as rampant and not in-your-face.