Posted: January 27, 2013 by aecsws in The AECIAN @ Assam Engineering College, Writes...

‘Corruption is the cause of all evil in our country’ is the answer most learned and socially conscious citizens of India would give if asked about the cause of various socio-economic problems galvanising the country. While we are all fashionably outraged at the way politicians misuse public money with impunity, a small look at the way we lead our daily lives is enough to show that what happens in the order of millions of rupees is just a bigger manifestation of a phenomenon that is integral to our everyday life. We readily pay money to cut corners; we regularly try to cheat the system and feel proud of it. Worse still, we rationalize most of it by telling ourselves that this is all because the system is corrupt—as if multi-million dollar scams in Delhi force us to ask our kids to lie to the ticket-collector about their age.

The problem is that, in India, it’s incredibly unfair to expect otherwise. Most of the public transport in Germany (and many other countries) works on a self-help basis. You buy tickets and punch them yourselves; if you are carrying pets or bicycles, you buy tickets for them as applicable. There are no ticket-collectors in most trains, nor are there any turnstiles or other setup for verification of tickets. It’s tempting to skip buying tickets when simple probability tells you that the expected value of cheating the system is in your favour. Why buy tickets then? To feel that you are doing the right thing? The problem is that doing the right thing can make you feel incredibly stupid. What matters is not whether there are enough ticket-collectors, but whether there are enough commuters around you who buy tickets.

Before punishing wrong, it’s important to foster a culture where people recognize the wrong.  We live in a system where not letting others copy your assignment brands you as anti-social and unfriendly. The key then to ensuring less or no corruption is that people who want to do the right thing are not made to feel incredibly stupid for doing so. This is where the critical mass comes in. Once enough people opt for the right means, the rest would not be able to rationalise their misdeeds by referring it as collective corruption.

Every once in a while, we hear news reports of a public officer’s life being ruined because he was caught taking a paltry sum as bribe. It is fun to make sport of such people and to make them face public ignominy. It works beautifully—the ‘higher ups’ can give themselves a pat on the back for ‘exposing corruption’ and punishing it. The holier-than-thou common man who has been taught to feel victimized by corruption smells some kind of sweet revenge. We now have a suspended police officer, and a nation that feels slightly better. Perfect. When we foster a culture of corruption and then arbitrarily punish a few offenders, we are not being wrong in punishing corrupt people, we are being irresponsible. It does work as a one-click solution; the work has to be intricately exhaustive and inclusive of everyone.

 Abhinav Bhattacharyya

8th Sem (Civil Engineering)

in collaboration with The AECIAN; Assam Engineering College

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