3. What is Corruption? Corruption is a complex phenomenon and cannot be easily defined. Certainly it is seen as a degradation of, and departure from the accepted ethical-moral standards in human conduct. It throws to the wind ethical principles of rectitude in behaviour, circumvents justice, and bypasses transparency and accountability, the very bulwark of normal human transactions. As a human act, done by a morally responsible agent, corrupt practice carries with it moral guilt, because it goes contrary to established moral standards accepted by society for code of conduct and transmitted from generation to generation. It badly affects the body politic. It can be understood as immoral transaction and reflects decadence in our moral values, standards and orientations. Because of its social effects, corruption hits at the very foundation of the human social order. It taints our economic, social, political, cultural and religious activities and relationships. Unless it is checked, corruption as a social disease can lead to disintegration of human conduct and consequent breakdown of personal and communitarian life and systems. Many a civilization disappeared from the pages of history due to such breakdown of human mores.
4. Expressions of Corruption: It is quite disturbing to notice the fall of our common behaviour from the moral heights India reached during the days of the freedom struggle. Once known and recognized for its deep religiosity and spirituality, India is now a place where the culture of corruption is thriving. Corruption expresses itself in various types and forms, and affects many sectors: political, societal, corporate, legal, commercial, intellectual, and police. For example, power is exercised for common good. But its use for private benefit or advantage is a corrupt political practice. The exercise of leadership and authority ceases to be a service to citizens when it seeks to promote the selfish interests of an exclusive few, and dispenses with the common good. It employs manipulation, blackmailing, physical elimination of political opponents and commercial competitors silencing the voices of the weaker sections of society by means of hidden deeds and transactions, unpaid or underpaid employees, etc. The everydayness of corruption persuades one to think that it is unavoidable in any society. The current Indian scenario of large scale corruptions seems to show that the dynamics of corruption has become the grammar of nation building. Different categories of corruption are considered by analysts: like ‘petty corruption’ which involves small pecuniary remuneration for frequent transactions; ‘administrative corruption’ when bribes are offered to procure services, or to escape tax, to win small contracts; we have ‘systemic corruption’ when corruption is pervasive through all levels of society; and ‘grand or mega corruption’ when ministers, senior bureaucrats, corporate, industrial magnates or middlemen are parties to shady mega deals like arms purchase or coal/minerals allocation, etc., and in return huge sums of ‘black money’ change hands.
5. Corruption has permeated our national ethos and poisoned political processes and establishments, civil society, public and private sectors of industry, business and commerce, and the educational system. Even religious establishments are affected by its deadly spell. It has vitiated the whole economic machinery of society by taking the form of ‘black money’. It has affected our moral preferences and is vitiating the social fabric of the nation. Although corruption has been a constant cancer-cell in our history, with the onset and growth of the processes of liberalization, privatization and globalization during the past two decades or so, it has grown exponentially. Globalization has resulted in corruption becoming all-pervasive. Some affected sectors need to be highlighted:
6. A most powerful force that weakens our democratic system of governance and subsequently leads to the unhealthy reign of corruption in the country is discrimination based on caste. This is so because caste—primarily on account of its discriminatory categories of purity and pollution—debases our very human nature itself. Labelling a fellow human being as so-called ‘outcaste’ and ‘polluting’ is already moral debasement. This perception is stuck to the socio-political structure of our country. Since the social structure is affected by the evil of caste, politicians as well as bureaucrats make sure that the presence of the subaltern classes/castes, as well as their participation in the political processes of the country, is kept to the minimum, so that their corrupt ways to satisfy the greed at the expense of the bare needs of the poor are uninterrupted. Besides, there is a conscious effort in the country today to exclusively highlight corruption charges against the subalterns so as to publicize the prejudiced impression that the subalterns by nature are corrupt and, therefore, not worthy of political leadership. We hold that, unless we address the question of caste from a structural, as well as socio-political viewpoint, no effective measure can be taken against corruption in India.
7. Though gender equality at all levels is accepted universally ‘in theory’, gender discrimination ‘in practice’ against females in our country is still a persistent and perturbing problem. The inability of parliamentarians to accept 33% reservation for women is a symbol of the unequal distribution of powers in all other sectors of Indian society. The dehumanizing discrimination, oppression and exclusion of women from decision-making bodies in civil society as well as in the Church, continues in our society despite constitutional guarantees towards gender equality. This is the result of patriarchy that is deeply embedded in the Indian ethos. Due to its all-pervasive sway, even legislation on behalf of protection of women’s dignity and rights cannot become effective as is evident from the proliferation of crimes against women like female foeticide, child marriage, rape, dowry, wife-beating, dowry deaths and the like. In recent times the nation has been witnessing a phenomenal increase in violence against women in the form of rapes, dowry deaths, elimination of the girl child, human trafficking and flesh trade. The nation recently witnessed massive upsurge of awakened citizens, especially of women’s movements against the monstrosity of rape.
8. Although national integration has been a major concern of the founding fathers and of the more recent National Integration Council, yet, non-recognition of the rights and the inadequate representation of the indigenous people of India in various sectors of governance is another manifestation of corrupt anthropological thinking in racial matters. Furthermore, recent economic policies have been making destructive inroads into their natural habitat, rendering them uprooted and migrants in their own ancestral land. The unhealthy use of money by the grand alliance of national and international corporate companies, political leaders, industrialists, bureaucrats and contractors to succeed in their objective of securing the mineral resources has adversely affected the unity and identity of the tribals. Put bluntly, tribals are ‘expendable’ in the eyes of economic predators! Worse still, they are now caught between the crossfire of the government’s security forces and the Maoists. Indeed, countless tribal families have been experiencing the negative fall-out of manifold corrupt practices in every sector of public life.
9. Though the rich-poor divide has always been an ugly black mark on the fabric of Indian society, globalization, privatization and corporatization, as well as Special Economic Zones (SEZ), and New Economic Policy (NEP) have thrown up further spaces and possibilities for mega corrupt practices. The beneficiaries are inevitably those who are already rich, while the poor are always and everywhere the losers. The nation was shocked by the recent exposures of mega scams in the public and private arenas. This has resulted in a major disintegration in the culture of business transactions and decline in values.
10. Ever since Independence, self-governance has been through constitutional democracy—the bulwark of the Indian nation. Its exercise has been through party system of governance. However, of late, the peoples of India have been shocked to discover that some sections or individuals in the three wings of our democracy, namely, the legislative, the executive, and the judiciary, and the fourth estate, the media, were subject to unhealthy practices that affect adversely the integrity of these democratic institutions. The news of cash/goods for votes, paid questions, transfer of money for cross voting, etc., have sullied the image of our elected representatives and cast aspersions on the integrity of democratic institutions. The 2-G spectrum case, episodes like ‘coalgate’, ‘hawala’ deals, etc., are indicators of massive erosion of values affecting central and state administration. Fathomless, indeed, appears the rot as revelations and disclosures keep flooding the media. The distribution of freebies like cycles, food, liquor, saris/shawls/bed-sheets, etc., by political parties in exchange for votes before election, as well as bribes given by legislatures to maintain majority status by political parties, are corrupt electoral practices of party politics that weaken the integrity and credibility of the democratic process. Besides, power in itself, and the centralization of power, is prone to corruption, since it leads to deviancies like favouritism, nepotism, etc. Corrosion of values takes place, eventually leading to the degeneration and failure of democratic systems.
11. The constitutional measures introduced to control and regulate native industrial development had led to the birth, growth and spread of the culture of red-tapism and license raj, a den of corrupt practices, affecting the integrity of bureaucracy. Though de-control has been introduced, the culture of rot has continued unmitigated and has assumed new forms. Besides, the indifference and disregard for accountability on the part of the bureaucracy affect the effectiveness of many welfare schemes such as MGNREGA, pension schemes for the elderly, and public distribution system.
12. Though the armed forces have been known for their integrity and commitment to the defence of the nation, recent revelations unearthing shady deals in the purchase of arms implicating personnel of the higher echelons of the armed forces have disturbed the nation. The role of middlemen and ministers and practices like bribe for recruitment, are part of the same mess. The drive towards more and more sophisticated weaponry, necessitated by the constant fanning of hatred and hostility from across the border, and the phenomenon of terrorism in the sub-continent, can only lead to further divert the national resources badly needed for the very basic steps like poverty alleviation and other fundamental needs of the masses. The development certainly vitiates the very perception of humans, now seen as instruments only of vengeance, a grave error in rational thinking. The collapse of, or trivializing dismissal of, values is sign of the disintegration of culture.
13. The police force is part of the nation’s enforcement agency for maintaining the rule of law and public order. However, corrupt practices of the police like non-registration of FIRs, non-appearance, or misrepresentation of facts in courts, suppression of evidence, fake encounter deaths, torture and custodial killings – all are common knowledge. It is by yielding to financial gratification, or pressure groups, or misguided political leadership that such corrupt practices are resorted to. Such corrupt practices destroy the credibility of the agency which will further weaken the social system itself. Decline is seen as manifold.
14. The common citizens’ trust in the integrity of members of the higher judiciary has been breached by the recent allegations of corruption by some judges and unhealthy nexus between politicians, or business magnates and members of the judiciary. Greater decadence will set in if such steps are not checked. Besides, the legal system has become accessible only to those who can afford to pay exorbitant legal fees; but, today, basic legal aid is unaffordable for ordinary people.
15. The media, both print and electronic, are accepted in all democracies as the fourth estate, and as watchdogs of the functioning of all the wings of the Constitution as well as promoter of public opinion on the mode of governance and responsibilities of civil society. It often happens that the partisan role of the media—both print and electronic—which comes out in the form of suppressing, under-reporting and exaggerated reporting of events is gross distortion of truth. Selective highlighting, or planned downplaying, and even concealment of facts misleads the public. This is another example of corruption in public life.
16. Religion is the realm that provides meaning to any culture or community. Rightly do people look up to religions as conscience-keepers of society. However, on the one hand, recent reports of some religious leaders implicated in acts of criminality, sexual immorality and fraudulent financial practices like capitation fees, massive swindling of funds allotted for relief or developmental works, and, their indifference to major national disasters, communal holocausts and caste-gender-based discriminations on the other, have blackened the image of religions in public perception. Corrupt practices in some religious institutions, like non-transparent financial transactions, appointment of personnel, shady deals, non-fulfillment of legal obligations towards poorer sections of society, etc., have further contributed to the decline of values in institutional culture. The politicization of religion for personal, or sectarian ends further add to the infamy religion.
17. Probably, the most gigantic mode of corrupt transactions takes place around the vast mineral deposits of iron ore, coal, petroleum, gas, aluminium and related mines of natural resources. The players at work are mega corporates, middlemen with political clout, political leaders with blurred conscience, bureaucrats, and their cohorts. Benefits that accrue to partners in the covert deals are colossal. But the truth that these transactions are tainted seems not to affect either the donors or beneficiaries in these transactions. Loss to the nation, to the owners of the land (in most cases tribals or farmers) and above all to the integrity of the value system is incalculable.
18. Slow indeed is the realization that corruption as an anti-human and anti-social trait is harmful to social cohesion. It works against inclusive and integral development of the nation. It leads to corrosion of values, destruction of the moral fabric of society; and hence, to degeneration of the democratic system itself. Money or favours acquired through corrupt deals becomes a means to acquire political positions of power. Corrupt behaviour is taught and learned in the process of socialization. Corrupt practices gain acceptance as normal. More and more people become victims and agents of corruption. They also learn to justify corruption as necessary in public life. The risks involved in combating corruption discourage people who would like to fight it.
19. In sum, the preceding brief survey of the pervasive spread of corruption is quite disturbing. However, it should challenge us to respond. Humankind has rich heritages and powerful resources within itself that renders it capable of addressing these negative forces creatively and with a positive frame of mind. Before we unearth these resources, some probing into the root causes of corruption is in order.