Thursday, September 4, 2014

Corruption Is The Root

During the last Indian election the Aam Aadmi party shook things up and offered many people hope of working for a corruption-free India. I wasn't following the elections very closely, but from what I gathered, AAP's platform was that corruption may not be India's only problem, but it is the first problem because it is at the root of many others. It is the mother of all systemic problems in India.

It's possible to understand "corruption is everywhere" in the abstract and even in the mundane in Indian daily life. For example traffic cops take small bribes and hassle you for no reason all the time. But I had a real epiphany about how corruption colors everything about life here while I was at the RTO getting my car's license plates.

I've written about how doing most things in India, like opening a bank account or getting an Internet connection or registering for an exam or getting your license plates, is full of protocol. There is paperwork everywhere and it is nerve wracking because people will nitpick your paperwork and find any reason to reject it. You are missing this document, this document must be notarized, your signature doesn't match, your signature isn't signed across the photo, your photo isn't passport sized, you made a correction in the date but can't cross-sign dates, I've heard it all. In the US paperwork is a formality; in India people make livelihoods out of pushing papers, so it's all scrutinized to an obnoxious level.

I realized that when you have these very rigid almost ritualistic protocols to do everyday stuff, it requires a gatekeeper to check your work. And as a gatekeeper you can stop folks from getting what they want. And if you have the power to stop, you have the power to be fed. So why is Indian life so full of annoying paperwork and processes that often reject you out of stupid technicalities? Because that provides a pretense for someone to take a bride.

If AAP's vision comes to fruition and corruption is eradicated from Indian society, the annoying ritualized protocols will also fade away. If there is no opportunity to be greased, why am I keeping this gate so tightly?

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