The arrest of an anti-corruption activist has sparked angry protests throughout India
, seemingly hitting a nerve with Indians tired of having to pay bribes. Our Observers tell us how corruption affects their everyday lives.
Anna Hazare was arrested Tuesday as he and 1,200 of his supporters prepared to launch a hunger strike to denounce corruption. Following a huge public outcry, authorities on Thursday decided to let him carry out his 15-day fast.
The primary goal of Hazare’s movement, India Against Corruption, is to press the government into adopting stronger anti-corruption laws. Since April, his followers have staged sit-ins and protests throughout the country, and are finding plenty of support online – the movement’s Facebook page
has over 350,000 followers.
“It is common for police to show up at small businesses to collect bribes”
Di Bundi (not her real name) is a writer from New Zealand. She lives in Pushkar, in Rajasthan. When she arrived in India two years ago, she went to the local police station to register as a foreign resident.
On my first visit, a policeman took down all my information and told me to come back in a week. After I had left, he called my lawyer and told him I was to pay baksheesh of 1500 rupees (about 23 euros) when I returned to collect my papers. On my second visit, the policeman told me his boss wanted to see me. His boss asked me point blank if anyone in his office had asked for money. I said no – I didn’t want to risk getting the policeman into trouble. I worried he could then make trouble for me. Later, an Indian friend explained that the boss probably just wanted his share of the bribe.
It is common for police in India to show up at small businesses and guest houses, such as the one I was running at the time, to collect bribes, or baksheesh, during festivals. So there is the Diwali Baksheesh, the Holi Baksheesh, etcetera, etcetera. If you’re a foreigner, they can ask you for up to 25,000 rupees (about 380 euros) per year – and that’s on top of the festival bribes.”
“The policeman said, ‘I can give a smaller fine – without giving you a receipt’”
Rahul Verghese is a businessman living in Gurgaon, a suburb of Dehli.
I was stopped by a traffic policeman for speeding. When I paid the fine, he said, ‘Why do you want to pay so much, sir? You seem educated and honest. I can give a smaller fine – without giving you a receipt.’ I refused. He sheepishly let me off.
When I was just starting my business venture [in the athletics market], I met with the head of the Athletics Federation of India. I was happy with the promptness of the appointment but was shocked by his first question: “Which group is backing you?” He was obviously trying to find out how much money he would be able to juice out of me. When he heard I was backed by no one but myself, he seemed to lose interest. Incidentally, this man is now in jail for scams related to the Commonwealth Games.
Anti-corruption laws won’t change anything unless everybody says, ‘starting today, I promise never to pay or take a bribe.’ That would be a revolution.”
“Every year in Mumbai, shoddy construction work has to be redone all over again”
Julie Van Rechem is a French citizen who lives in Mumbai. She has worked as a tour guide there for the past three years. She also writes for two blogs, Passage to Mumbai
I remember the first time I visited the City of Nawabs, in Hyderabad. When I left the site, the man at the ticket booth asked me to give him back my ticket. I refused, and since he kept insisting, I finally asked him why he wanted the ticket so badly. ‘It’s for the bookkeeping’, he said. But really, it was to resell the ticket to another tourist.
Every year in Mumbai, I see the same construction work in the same spots. For example, they’ll be refilling a pothole the size of a crater. The problem is construction companies choose low-quality materials and work very quickly, so that by the next year, the pothole is back. And they’ll be the ones to refill it, picked by city employees who are complicit in their scheme.”
A candlelit protest held in the village of Ralegan Siddhi in western India.
“To obtain a passport, you’ll be told, ‘The more money you pay, the sooner you get the passport’”
Siddartha Pamulaparty lives in Hyderabad, the capital of Andhra Pradesh, a region in central India.
A year ago, a colleague of mine had to report a theft at his home. Just to file the report at the police station, he had to use the influence of another friend who happens to know a senior police official. The police did find the stolen goods, but he ended up having to pay a percentage of the goods’ worth (these included a laptop and jewellery) to recover them.
There are many more examples. To obtain a passport, you’ll be told, ‘The more money you pay, the sooner you get the passport.’ And it’s common for people to use a ‘broker’ in order to get a driver’s licence.”