Corruption is a pandemic in India. Every sector of the Indian society has been gravely infested with this malaise. Last year because of the slew of corruption scandals under the Indian government, there were widespread protests by a very frustrated middle class.
I had a memorable experience with corruption during my time in India. It was way back during the years 2001-2005. It was during the days when dial up connections were your only source to be connected with the internet. My hometown was on a hilly terrain and the telephone cables were aboveground drawn through plastic conduits. This had both a positive and negative side to it. Maintenance of these lines if there were faults was relatively easy. But the above ground pipes also proved heavily fault prone, especially when large vehicles had to traverse through the narrow roads.
We had a really cocky telephone operator. If at all there were any faults with the line connection, it was really difficult to get him to come and have a look at them, without persuasion and in most cases wads of cash. If one dint pay up, he never returned in the future should there be any problem with their connection. Thanks to the monsoon season and the bad state of roads in my hometown, problems were frequent.
This corrupt telephone operator made it a habit to fleece everybody and with time, newer bad habits were developed. He made a list of the homes in the area where their sons and daughters worked outside India, and ensured that their telephone lines failed frequently, most of the time on the advent of visits by these children to their hometown. He promptly showed up once the rich children on holidays availed of his services, and pocketed huge amounts of money for his ‘efficient’ services.
I was also a frequent victim to his machinations. Most of the time it was easy to blame it on the state of roads or the weather. But slowly I started realizing a pattern. It was most of the time when I was in town or we had cousins or relatives over, that the telephone lines kept failing, even when we had good weather or roads that just returned from periodic maintenance.
Many times, I did confront him on his alleged misdemeanours and he sheepishly looked away, ignoring them most of the time. I yearned for a time when I could teach him a lesson. It wasn’t easy to report him to his superiors as the erstwhile Department of Telecom was corrupt, lazy and a bureaucratic quagmire.
Things started changing as the DoT was rechristened into a public company called BSNL. Since it was a full fledged company and once the sector was opened to private entrants, they had no choice but to change and become professional. But the protagonist of our story never changed.
Later on I moved out of India and I kept hearing tales about him with alarming regularity, as he perfected his art. I kept thinking to myself, ‘this is simply not right’. Whatever he is doing is not right and by not doing something about it, I am allowing such habits to go unpunished. After spending some days thinking about what I need to do, I decided on a plan. I drafted up an email to the higher-ups in BSNL, clearly explaining what he has been doing, and how his actions are becoming a social evil that was affecting everyone. I also explained to them in detail how helpless parents (whose children were working abroad) were held hostage by his machinations. Though a great deal was made in the media about the professionalism of this newly formed company BSNL, I dint expect anything great out of that email and quickly forgot about it.
Within a week, I heard something that made me startled. There was a huge delegation of BSNL managers, police and anti corruption squad (within BSNL) who took this telephone operator into custody, temporarily suspending him, that descended into our hometown. With just a couple of months to go into his retirement, his entire life and career looked jeopardized.
This delegation headed to our house and gently met up with my (now late) grandmother. She saw the pitiful condition this telephone operator and having known him for many years, denied all allegations out of sympathy for him. The delegation did exonerate him, but the whole experience just months before his retirement, unsettled him.
When I visited my hometown years after this, I heard that he changed a great deal in his last months and the whole tale of his experience was a warning to his successor who became an effective operator to this day.
This story always reminds me about how it is important for us to fight these vices of the society head on. I learnt a lot of lessons from this experience. Some of them were:
Corruption happens because as citizens we allow it to happen. Both hands are needed to make a clap.
In any modern society, it’s always about the people. They are the foundation of any modern society. The social institutions are there to serve the people and not the other way around.
Corruption can be tackled, if we the citizens gang-up to fight it.
Corruption is also a result of ineffective democratic systems and practises. Think about this for a change: Which is more easier, fill up paperwork and spend days chasing the paperwork across the inefficient bureaucratic chain for days and weeks-or to pay up and get the work done within hours? These ineffective democratic systems and practises arise from inept and lazy political representatives who are busy filling their pockets than to be worried about some actual work, that they were elected to do in the first place.
To conclude, participation in the democratic process is not merely casting a vote on the day of election, but a continuous and aggressive demand for better vision, services from their representatives.
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