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What corruption have you experienced in your life?
Here is the face of corruption in India which most other Indians on Quora have been fortunate to have never witnessed.
Previous answers by Indians have said so much about various aspects of corruption in India. Surely, almost everything that could be said has already been said.
Unfortunately, I can only wish that were the case.
Other answers by Indians have something in common… they are mostly written by reasonably well to do people who can write in English quite well and are able to write an essay length answer on Quora. This gives us a hint about the Indian demographic answering this question. Simply because of better education and sense of their rights, this demographic is largely isolated from the type of corruption that afflicts the others.
I belong to this group now… but I was part of a very different one during my childhood – the lower / lower-middle economic class. The corruption faced by the these classes is quite different, as you will soon see. I will only talk about those (skipping the usual all pervasive corruption related with driving license, passport, traffic tickets, etc).
A little background to set the ground work…
I come from a relatively poor, densely populated place in New Delhi (near Ambedkar nagar), where I had an exciting childhood growing up with a large number of friends (~25). I spent all my childhood mostly playing cricket. As one might expect, education was not a high priority. Only 7 of these friends stayed in school beyond 10th grade and just 3 studied beyond 12th. Everyone else dropped out for one reason or another, and their parents really didn’t care about it all that much. I was the only one who went on to get a masters.
A couple of my friends are bus drivers/conductors in commuter buses (red/blue line buses in Delhi) and a few others work as office peons – basically the Rs 5k-8k ($100) monthly salary bracket. My parents had emigrated to New Delhi 10 years before I was born, in search of a better life. Hindi and English were not their best languages, but they got by.
Here we go…
1. “Do not go to the police, no matter what”.
My sister was told by my parents – “In case of any incident (molesting, purse snatching, etc), DO NOT go to a police station – especially never after dark and never alone. Catch an auto rickshaw and come home right away…“.
This might be surprising to some… but enough incidences of poor young women being molested inside the police stations were known that this was just common sense of the place. Also, this is mostly a poor neighborhood issue. Policemen know enough not to try such atrocities in the more affluent neighborhoods.
I can hardly imagine the plight of the women who have been victims of a crime, and who go to the police station to seek some recourse, where they have to face further humiliation / molestation / injustice. Definitely makes them forget about the original problem in a matter of seconds.
2. “Do not report burglaries” or “Do not let the police know your economic status”.
This is a funny one, especially since its coming from the relatively poor.
When our house was burgled and the thief fled with a VCR and stereo (probably the TV was too bulky to run with), we did not report the incident to the police. Since bribery is such an integral part of life there, you don’t want the authorities to know your actual financial state (no matter what it actually is). If they don’t know your economic state, you can always plead that its worse than what they think – which we always did. But if they come to know that you owned a vcr/stereo or they see a 25″ color TV in the home, you are going to pay through the nose for the rest of your days. Also, the thief is not going to get caught anyway, and even if he is caught, you won’t get the stuff back… so no point in calling the police. This is another “common sense” rule of poor localities. Do not report burglaries and don’t let them see your house on the inside.
Of course, now you might ask, what happens if we catch a burglar in action? It seems that we would have to call the police in order to arrest the thief. Well… this depends on people’s disposition at that moment. Usually, people prefer to deal their own brand of justice to the thief and park him in the nearby doctor’s clinic rather than troubling the police (who would probably have beaten him worse – unless he was able to bribe his way out).
3. “In the land of the poor, the police are the mafia”.
When I was about 15, we used to play cricket in a park, which had a small illegally erected shack on one corner selling tobacco products ( staying in place by paying bribes to the police ). The person running this shack was never happy to see us play there. To this day, I fail to understand the root cause of his resentment – maybe he was just an unhappy person tormented by the system. Every time a ball was hit in the vicinity of his shack, he would give us angry looks, and tell us to go and play somewhere else. If a ball happened to fall harmlessly into his shack, he would make a hue and cry about it, give us dire warnings and we would never see the ball again.
One day, our ball hit a plastic candy jar kept on the edge of his shop, which fell to the ground. The guy flew into a rage, grabbed one of our bats, broke the stumps and we all got into a big argument. He called the cops and reported that we had broken things in his shack and roughed him up.
The cops, who are ever watchful for such an opportunity, promptly arrested the 3 kids they could get their hands on, bundled us into the gypsy (typical police car model in India) and took us to the police station. We tried to protest, for which, we got slapped sharply and were told to be quiet unless we wanted more.
At the police station, we were asked for our names, addresses, phone numbers and parent’s occupations, which were duly noted down (not an official FIR (crime report book), but in generic visitor log book). Then we were taken to a room which already had 3 other poor wretched looking men in a rooster (murga) position (for those who don’t know this stance, its an utterly self-disrespecting pose where the person completely bends over at the waist while the butt is held high suitable for caning – it becomes physically uncomfortable and painful after a couple of minutes).
We too were then asked to assume a rooster position until the Inspector was ready to deal with us. I now understand that they needed all our info to know how best to make a profit from this situation. From the addresses and parent’s occupation, the inspector deduced that our parents are too illiterate/ignorant to protest.
The officer came to the room where we were struggling to maintain the rooster stance. He kicked my friend who was a bit unstable, made him get up and slapped him viciously across the face. He grabbed a large lock of my friend’s hair and swung him around the room, saying… “You guys want to grow up to become dons… is it? Beating up the shop keeper and destroying his shop. Next, you will be asking for hafta (weekly ransom extracted by mafia).”. “No sir. We didn’t do anything. We were just playing cricket…” Of course, he knew that already. Silly us. Also, the irony of the situation probably didn’t dawn on the inspector – that he was doing exactly what he was accusing us of – taking bribes from the shopkeeper to let him run his business.
Each of us was slapped around by the inspector, and physically abused in a general manner for the next few minutes. And to further humiliate us, he told us to slap each other… we were forced to do it. He slapped me hard because I didn’t slap my friend hard enough. And we resumed slapping each other, harder this time, tears streaming down our faces.
In the meanwhile, they had also called our parents and summoned them to the police station to deal with the “grave matter”. They did not call all the parents at the same time, lest the parents get together and start protesting. They called each parent after they were finished dealing with the previous one. (This is my assumption of their plan – I can’t be sure if the cops planned it this way, or it just so happened that all the parents happened to arrive at the police station at separate times. From my other experiences with the cops, I believe it was planned.)
Once each kid’s parents arrived, they were told that releasing the kids for any amount of money was out of the question; the police have received a complaint from the shop keeper and the only thing they could do – for an appropriate price – was to “not beat the kids” while they were in the police station. ( This technically makes sense because what we received earlier is not really a Delhi police beating… they were merely “scolding” us. A beating usually requires hospitalization and leaves a person bed ridden for days.) Parents were told that the kids will be taken to a magistrate in 2 days time and they should arrange for a lawyer.
Of course, all of this was bullshit but our parents were too stupid to know it. All the talk was just to scare the parents to pay whatever they could muster. Our parents had seen cases to go courts and people not being able to afford the lawyer fees or the police and court bribes. Our parents pleaded and groveled in front of the police officer to take more money and let the kids go. The matter was finally settled for around 2000 per kid, which was a nontrivial amount for our economic state at the time (early 1990s).
This is not just a solitary incidence – there are tens of other similar horrific incidences endured by people known to me personally. The police are on the prowl for any hint of an activity which they can benefit from. We had a nickname for policemen… “sabse bada gunda” – “the biggest mobster/villain”. If they can’t make money from a person because the person is too poor, they physically abuse them for their own entertainment. I am sure every New Delhi resident has seen a poor guy being mistreated by a policeman (being slapped/kicked/beaten in public view). It’s usually assumed that the poor guy has deserved it and no more thought is given to the matter. You can see how this system can lead to alternative systems of justice like the ones depicted in the movie Sarkar (~Indian remake of Godfather).
4. “You can get slapped by a policeman at any time and for no reason”. There are too many incidences of getting slapped or beaten by policemen in the normal course of a day to be narrated here in detail. I do remember 2 incidences clearly, which I will describe below…
4a. This happened when I was about 20. I and a friend were hanging around late at night (11 pm), catching up on each other’s latest activities as we had been out of touch for more than an year (I had started college and was staying in the hostel, and came back home once every 3 months to visit). We were sitting at our usual get together spot where we used to wait for players to gather before going for playing cricket.
As we were happily talking away, I noticed a couple of policemen walking towards us. A dread took its grip over my mind, heart and throat. The policeman asked… “Who are you and where do you live?”. I took an audible gulp down my throat and answered “Right there Sir.”, pointing towards my house. “Go home and talk all you want in your house. I don’t want to see anyone loitering around here” he ordered.
Fortunately and unfortunately, the college scientific education was having an effect on me, where I was taught to not accept things without question. However, I didn’t realize that those teachings don’t quite apply outside the classroom. I mumbled “But sir, what has happened to warrant this? We have always spent tim…” BAMM!!! and he slapped me right across the face. “What did I just tell you? Move, else you will receive more.”
Why did the policeman slap me now while we had enjoyed that precise spot for years? I understood this the next day.
A new computer training shop had opened doors near my house about 6 months ago, and the shop owners had trouble getting girls to sign up for the training lessons. Apparently, some girls had been teased by boys loitering around the shop and the owner had paid the policemen to keep the area clear of loitering boys at all times.
4b. It is assumed by default that if you are roaming in a better location than where you belong, you are there for no good reason, or probably to plan a robbery. Incidences like the following one were repeated many times between the age of 10 and 17.
I was walking home from school one late evening after spending time at a friend’s house. I unfortunately managed to walk into 2 policemen on the way, while I was still in the “better” locality (I liked to walk this way because the houses and the roads were so nice). I am usually on the lookout for policemen while walking around, but this time, they sprung up on me as I rounded a corner. The expression on my face and the fear in my body language immediately gave it away that I was an outsider in this area, feared the police and have been at the receiving end of their abuse on earlier occasions. “I was one of those who feared the police on sight for no fault of mine.” I could not even make a run for it, though I did think about it for a second.
The next scene played out in a manner similar to how it had already played out many times on earlier occasions… “What’s your name and where do you live?”. I was so stupid and scared that I never thought that I could lie to these guys and slip away. Naah… if they ever came to know I had lied, they would beat me to death and I would have deserved it. Now, I can get away with a few slaps and only getting my hair pulled mercilessly, and promise to never come to this place again. Now that I think of it… I should have kept my hair cut really short – maybe get my ears clipped as well (the cops loved pulling those too) – basically keep all body parts inside the body.
5. “Authorities take extra advantage of poor/ignorant people“.
An answer by another Indian for this question claimed that poor Indians face lesser corruption in India (as compared to more affluent ones)… I laughed a little on the outside and cried on the inside. Only if they knew.
We (family of 5) lived in a tiny house having only 1 room and a total area of 200 sqft. As we kids grew up, some of us had to sleep on the roof in order to not bump into each other during the night. When it rained, all of us had to fit into the 1 room. Good times – I loved it.
My father had saved some money over a period of 15 years to extend the house (add a bedroom / bathroom), but the building laws and provisions did not allow for any construction/extension at all (or that is what we were told by the authorities and we were too dumb to read and understand all the laws. The fact that my parents were not fluent in English and Hindi made matters worse. And how can the authorities lie about laws?). They said we needed to file for special permission from the building authority for the new construction. That the procedure will take about 6 months to complete as the signing authority is extremely busy with other cases…. of course, for X amount of money, it can be done in a few days. Everyone else we knew around us was also equally dumb and was being taken for a similar ride by the authorities (hence, at the time, we didn’t know for sure that we were being fooled – we really thought that they were doing us a favour (for a price)). The poor have to pay bribes even for legitimate constructions.
We had no option – my father had to pay the bribe. Or else, stay in the 1 room for… eternity?
As soon as construction began, the police could smell some money being spent and they wanted their share. My father believed that the authorities and police were colluding and that the police had been informed about the construction by the building authorities. They came to inspect the building activity and demanded to see all the paperwork – today I know that the police had no business conducting such ‘inspections’, but the poor can’t question the police. Also, there are always some papers which you won’t have. Or they will make up some bullshit paper that you needed, right out of thin air. And while they are conducting their ‘inspection’ and negotiating the ransom, the construction work is halted, preferably with the concrete in a half poured state. They are good at their stuff. And you can’t complain to anyone because you are not smart enough to know that you might be right and have all the required paperwork. You can’t really complain about the police to anyone… what if the police come to know about it? They have arrested and beaten people in lockups on no/fake charges many times before… what’s going to happen if they knew you complained against them?
And even if you decide to complain, who are you going to complain to… and why would they take your side in this argument? From a poor man’s perspective, all authority is allied with each other. Every time you have dealt with authority in the past, each and every one of them, without exception, has tried to make more money off you. Its much more easier to just pay these guys to go away. It doesn’t even help to ask around if you really have made a mistake, because no one around you is smart enough to know all these details… because, if they were smart, they won’t be living around you. Only the authorities know this stuff and they are not on your side. Anyway… we paid again.
And we were forced to pay money again and again and again… whenever we had to deal with the authorities, for each and every thing that we didn’t understand. Sometimes we did know everything, but then, they would construct fake and arbitrary hurdles for us to jump over (they can tell who’s stupid). Its paying for your lack of education in real and hard currency. I think that’s the reason why my parents made sure that the kids got well educated despite it costing more. We were the only kids in the neighborhood who went to English medium schools (for the foreign readers – English medium school = language of tutoring is English rather than Hindi for all non language subjects like math, science, history, etc).
Cop in training:
I remember another childhood experience (~12 years old) where a novice policeman was practicing his bullshitting skills. I was riding my bicycle on a main road when a cop stopped me and asked me for my bicycle license. I had no idea that I needed a license and immediately felt stupid and guilty at the same time. I timidly said that I did not have it, whereupon he scolded me “You should know that you need a bicycle license to ride on a main road. Do you have any idea how dangerous it can be?”. He asked me to get off the bicycle, confiscated it and told me that I will have to pay the fine of Rs 20. (In case any non-Indian is wondering, there is no such thing as a “bicycle license” in India).
I started crying and I told him that I was very sorry and that I didn’t have any money. He told me to go and get money from my parents and then he will release the bicycle. I didn’t want to go and tell my parents that I had got into trouble for which they needed to pay money – they had previously told me to keep off the main roads while riding my bicycle – now I had done 2 bad things – didn’t listen to them and got fined. I spent the next half an hour crying, pleading, groveling and appealing to his merciful side to kindly let me go. Finally, realizing that nothing is going to come out of this, he let me go, probably making a mental note of what to change in his strategy the next time around.
A slice of my father’s struggles…
My father has endured much more abuse from authority in his life, but I never discussed these at length with him. However, I did see him struggle with this menace for most of his life. Throughout his life, my father worked hard and saved money to realize his dream of a better life for himself and the family. Once the kids became independent, he bought a plot of land on the city’s outskirts (greater noida) to set up a workshop to sew readymade clothes. He was 70 years old at this time and traveling ~80 kms everyday to get all the necessary clearances/paperwork and spending his hard earned money on bribes.
He was doing these trips in a beaten up old car that he had brought so he could do this quickly (he didn’t have much time or energy). Even though he was resigned to paying bribes, they made him run from pillar to post, so they could demand even more money than he was offering them upfront. For a 70 year old man, he was tormented in an inhuman way by the officials, but he persevered. I have no doubt he would have been able to pull off this project of his.
Unfortunately, he was finally broken by an untoward incident. One fateful day, a riot broke out (probably against police brutality) in a couple of villages/towns in the Greater-Noida area, where my dad was passing through on his way to the authority’s office. The rioters blocked the road and stopped the car, broke the windows, pulled my father out of it and set the car afire right in front of his eyes. He is the most determined person that I know, but he could not recover from that. What the government officials could not achieve with years of abuse and torment, was achieved by the rioters. He could fight the system… but now the general people had attacked him… it rends my heart as I re-live all this. I had not cried in the last 15 years, but remembering and writing all this brings back terribly painful memories.
Often in the movies, I had come across the question “If you knew that this was the last day of your life, how would you spend it?”.
Until the age of 20, my “perfect last day” was to get a machine gun and go around killing each and every policeman and government official that I could lay my bullets on. I had dreamt / romanticized about this so often in my mind that things could have easily gone in that direction, had life continued to be the hell that it was.
I once explained to a higher economic class friend about some of the pain that we had to go through. I must not have explained it very well because they said…
“You are trying to do things which you are not capable or smart enough to handle properly. If you don’t handle it properly, nobody else can help you out and you are paying for it. Suck it up!!”
Harsh, but it clearly brought into sharp focus one of the facts that life had been trying to teach us since the very beginning.
“I am the only person who can help myself. No one else can or will help me. In fact, everyone else will try to take advantage of me at every possible opportunity. It is my responsibility to become smart enough to avoid corruption”.
When we were in trouble, we were often looking for someone to help us out or to sympathize with our problems… the system, the government, the neighbours, and friends to a certain extent. Unfortunately, we were surrounded by vultures on most sides. And friends can only do so much before you feel that you are being a burden to them. We took our time to realize that we are on our own and only we can help ourselves. There is not much point in complaining or being pitied.
My dad understood this, at least at some level, but never had time to explain this to me properly (or maybe I was not smart enough to understand it then). It had been slowly dawning on me and the process took a long time to completely mature and it all made sense then.
Yes, I am that stupid.
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In the comments, many people have asked me “What can be done to fix this situation?”.
This reminds me of an exchange from the “Yes Minister” series…
(Jim, the current minister, is having trouble with his civil servants, and looking for help from Tom, his predecessor who is now in the opposition)
Jim: Look Tom, your were in office for years, you know all the civil service tricks.
Tom: Not all of them old boy, just a few hundred.
Jim: How do you defeat them, how do you make them do something they don’t want to do.
Tom: My dear fellow, if I knew that I wouldn’t be in opposition.
At the present, I have very little idea, what can be practically done to fix the problem. I honestly think that this rot of corruption is rooted so deeply into the Indian police and government system that nothing short of a revolution can fix it. Anything else seems like a band-aid on a shattered bone.
We need a revolution to replace the police and govt officials completely… with new and fresh recruits who are untainted by the mindset and precedent established by the corrupt past. They need to be paid such that they don’t have to resort to bribery to meet basic needs, or to compete financially with their corrupt peers. Additionally, we should have draconian laws in place to prevent atrocities by police and govt officials… All govt offices and police stations should have video cameras to enforce ethical behaviour.
Having said all this… I also know that this greatly reduces the authority enjoyed by the police and govt over the people, which makes it difficult for them to keep the unruly elements at bay. And there are more unruly elements in India, as compared to, say, first world countries.
Maybe this change in police and govt officials could be pulled off more easily in countries with dictatorial regimes ( or with govts which have greater concentration of power… like China). But for the revolution to happen in India, I think we will have to wait until the tormented people have had enough, so that they are ready for complete self sacrifice against atrocities.
Ex-Government Official bullshitting on camera
After reading the post, if you are wondering, how a government official can lie barefacedly and blatantly to mislead ignorant people… have a look at this video.
To knowledgeable people, this is just a ridiculously funny video. Bribe seeking govt officials mislead poor and ignorant people in this manner all the time. I have been at the receiving end of similar speeches quite often, where the speaker cooks up impressive facts at runtime to support their agenda.
“””The whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves, and wise people so full of doubts.””” – Bertrand Russell