When I was growing up, I used to read the articles in the newspaper about people returning the money/jewelry that somebody else had lost, the auto driver returning thousands of rupees the passengers had left behind. I used to wonder what made them do what they did especially when the person who did it was indeed very poor. Why didn’t s/he keep it her/himself, used it to feed his family, made a life out of it. One moment I would think, returning it made no sense at all and the next moment I would just imagine the plight of the people who lost it. What if someone lost all their hard earned money, a life time of savings, what if if was from a poor father carrying it to arrange for his daughter’s wedding? It made perfect sense to return it. The happiness that it’d bring when one loses something precious and find it later; the good feel that it’d instill in one’s heart; the give-back/do-the-same-thing attitude that it’d bring seemed much more valuable than the actual item’s worth.
If I found even a handful of rupees on the road and if I knew who it belonged to, my mom would ask me to return it. My parents taught me that to die in hunger is much more satiable than stealing or cheating. However, I’d listen to them, though very rare, discussing about bribing to get things done because everyone else does and there’s no other way. For a lower middle class family living on daily wages, bribing might have looked so easy. But I was never asked to follow the same; they’d always preach me against it! I never wanted to bribe, instead I’d argue that it’s their duty to serve people and they get paid for it and there is no need to pay a bribe. Even the good old movies, in which the hero fights the officials against corruption, used to influence me as a kid.
In schools, my teachers would always urge us to fight against things like dowry and bribery. The haves can do it but what about the have-nots? The deeds of the haves will haunt the have-nots and it’d become a vicious circle of influence. They’d call it an epidemic and rightly so. Honesty and ethics is what they taught me in school. Always. Even during my college days, I hated corruption, bribery. I used think, it’s very easy not to pay a bribe. There’s media, police, Internet, and what not to bring such incidents to light, but then those involved have no shame. Then there was Lokayukta. People were so impressed that they’d call Lokayukta if somebody asked for a bribe. Even that fell apart after a while; eventually everyone realized that Lokayukta had no real power! The common man had no other option but to surrender.
In 2010, I paid rupees 100/- to my travel agent for getting a four wheeler driving license in spite of driving reasonably well during the road test. Why? After the tests, the agent was collecting 100/- from every one saying that the RTO inspector demanded it. Everyone there was paying it and so did I! I will never know if the inspector asked for it or it was just the agent fooling us. But whatever it is, I fell for peer pressure and I paid a bribe!
Even with such teaching and bringing up, I paid a bribe! Why? As we get older and mature, with all that we see and experience, it is easy and reasonable to think that paying a bribe and getting things done is the easiest way. It’s very difficult to fight the system; it forces you to become part of it. As grown ups, we don’t have time to think about the profound repercussions of paying a bribe. We don’t realize that it rots the roots of our society. The mob mentality also has such a great influence. The very thought that ‘everyone does it; if I don’t, I will be left behind’ leaves no room our ethics. It’s a race out there after all and I succumbed to that race.
I am ashamed of what I did. I really am and I have decided that I will never pay a bribe again. NEVER EVER. The fight against corruption should start from within.
Have you paid a bribe? What are your views on it?
PS: I’m one of those who believes that ‘power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ The Jan Lokpal bill proposed by Anna Hazare and co. gives such high power to the bureau that it frightens me. In spite of it, I’m all in for the fight against corruption. Just like any other young Indian elsewhere, I’m sick of family politics, the bloody politicians, and the corrupt officials. All I hope is that this will bring the much needed change in the system and awareness among the people. Jai Hind.