Friday, October 07, 2011

Not Bribing Is Not Enough

The bus stopped before a closed gate guarded by an old man in Khaki. Beyond the gate, the road narrowed, retreating, as if to return the green flanking its sides, their rightful territory. We could not wait to enter. There was the pregnant silence that falls upon the proximity of any deep water body.
But the board fastened to the gate clearly said the entry was restricted, that public vehicles were not allowed. This was perhaps because the area was sensitive; there was a dam ahead built across the sea-like Bhadra river.

One of the boys got down and spoke to the guard – requesting him to open the gate and let the bus in. The guard obviously refused, pointing to the board. The alternative was for everybody in the bus to get down and walk to our destination – the dam.

After some more persuasion, the boy came back to announce emphatically that the guard had asked for 20 rupees!
‘He is asking for bribery and we shall not pay him. We have to fight corruption’.
All of them in the bus (with the exception of a few including yours truly) agreed that they had to fight corruption and would not pay him 20 rupees. No way!
This was the same crowd that had participated in some procession to demonstrate support for Anna Hazare a few days ago.

Since most of them haven’t learnt a line of Kannada though they have lived here for years, I was called to negotiate with the guard who spoke only Kannada.

I digress briefly here - on the subject of people from other states not caring to learn the local language, it may be noted that there is no uniformity in the scruples of people. They are scrupulous when it comes to fighting corruption by refusing to pay 20 rupees to an underpaid old guard, but feel no obligation (scruples) to learn the language of the soil off which they live. Another instance of how we make fragments of the ‘Whole’ for our convenience – about which I have written before.

So back to my story, I jumped down and hurried to the guard, having already worked in my mind what I was going to do. The boys around me suggested that I make a case out of the aunties in the bus who would not be able to walk all the way.
I did. Secretly willing him to shake his head.
He shook his head.
And then I asked if he wanted some money. How much did he want?
‘How can I ask?... As much as you please... something for coffee...’
The boys around stood gaping at us. I was sure they were not following a word.
‘Do one thing. Open the gate now. When the bus returns I will hand 20 rupees to the bus driver. He will extend his hand out. Collect it from him’.
He nodded.
There was a cheer from everyone as we jumped backed into the bus.
‘He has agreed. Sowmya spoke to him in Kannada. We are not paying anything.’
I, the negotiator became the saviour and everyone’s favourite that day, as the bus rolled on and the Bhadra river stretching all the way to the horizon received us in all its grey-blue calm.

So why did I do what I did?

Before that, what is corruption?
The answer to that is easy. Sure, bribery (among many other forms...) is corruption.
But what is not corruption? When are you ‘clean’? The answer to that is not so straightforward.
You may not pay the guard the bribe he asked for, but if you negotiate with him to get the bus inside, you are still corrupt. Because you are breaking the rule. A rule that was made for security reasons.
Whether you break the rule by paying a bribe or by appealing to his sympathy or a soft corner of his heart, you are still breaking the rule.
You are clean only when you learn of a rule and follow it without questioning.
The minute you attempt to negotiate around it, either by the use of polite words or the use of money or influence, you become corrupt.

That day, when people felt triumphant about ‘finding a solution without paying a bribe’, this narrow and limited view of corruption that most people seem to have, became stark.

So when the accounts closed for that day, were we deemed corrupt? If yes, then what made us corrupt?
May be yes. May be we were corrupt but not so much because we paid the guard a bribe of 20 rupees, as much because we violated a rule and compromised security.

As for the act of paying the guard the amount of 20 rupees, this calls for some analysis to put matters in perspective.
All that is legally incorrect need not be morally incorrect too.
A line comes to my mind – something about ‘the amount of crime in a sin and the amount of sin in a crime’. I will add to this by saying further that, a crime itself should not be the basis of judgment but the mount of sin a crime should be the basis of judgment.

It is said that Indira Gandhi started corruption in the country. During her regime, income tax of up to 90% was levied on people. People had no other way to make ends meet than by making black money.
Those people could be called criminals but what was the amount of sin in their crime? Not much.

Coming to my story, how much does a security guard working for the government earn in a month? 2000 Rupees?
How much did we, employees of a software company, earn a month? Anything between 30000 to 40000 Rupees? And that wasn’t enough for some of them - they had resigned for more money; there were no other compelling reasons - a few lakhs of rupees more every year.
So who was the greedier of the two? He who wanted 20 rupees for coffee/chai or he who wanted ten thousand more month on month for buying car, gold, designer clothes, movie tickets in an air conditioned multiplex?
Should we embark on the subject of most of these commodities having gone beyond the reach of that guard because of us who consumed recklessly causing prices to increase?

Being in our position, saturated as pythons, it was easy enough for us to oppose bribery and fight corruption, but to the guard, window shopping through most of his life, honesty should be humongous effort. In the larger context, the true measure of each one’s performance is how much each one has to stretch in this world relative to others.

So what should we have done that day to feel proud of ourselves?
We should have paid him not 20 but 200 rupees but stopped the bus outside the restricted area in respect for the rule and walked to our destination.

Sounds silly?


nithin said...

but how could be a person who is ambitious and working out so much trying to improve his standards can be called greedy????
and if we give 200 bucks as gift bribe or anything.. he will expect the same from the next team coming up there in-spite of their wellness.

Anonymous said...

This post reminds me of a high quality original movie with "commercial compromise" climax!
Relative poverty has been perpetual reality.Is it an option for the poor only to be either "corrupt" or "beggar"?...Not sure I would agree.