Psychology of Corruption

The brilliant artist of this image:
At my previous work place, I came to know of a couple of senior managers who were sacked due to ‘integrity breach’. I was told they had forged bills while filing for their claims. I thought it was a huge amount that they had forged; but no. It was a few hundreds. But still, it was an act of deception and they had to leave. I did not know them personally, but I was surprised. Their CTC at that time would have exceeded 15 lakhs per annum. So why did they cheat for a few hundreds? The answer is simple – there was an opportunity to take extra money, so they did it. The act was not driven by some desperate need; it is more of an attitude – kis ka baap ka jaatha hai/yaar appan mane gantu?

Similarly, I overheard with amusement a conversation between two young employees at the cafeteria. They had the earnest, well-scrubbed look of college freshers. One of them was pissed off that his project manager was not approving his claims for snacks and dinner. If an employee stays back late in office, ON WORK, then he/she was entitled for dinner and snacks, paid for by the company. The process to do this was to pay for one’s meals, and then claim the money. Apparently this project manager refused, and rightly so, because the kid was NOT REQUIRED to stay back late at work; but if he did stay back to beat the traffic and go to gym, then clearly, the company was not obliged to pay. This employee understood the policy. But his grouse was that the claim was only Rs.75. So why was the project manager ‘behaving cheaply and acting like he was giving the money out of his pocket?’

When I filed for my tax returns for the first time, some of my friends clucked their tongues and said I was a fool because I had not claimed for HRA (house rent allowance). ‘But I am staying with my parents, and it is our own house,’ I was bewildered. ‘Who will come and check?’ was the reply, ‘you can make receipts in your father’s name, and say you are paying him rent.’ Apparently that is the standard practice, endorsed by even CAs. I found it all too unnecessary – I mean, my salary was anyway meagre and it barely fell in the taxable bracket, and I just shrugged my shoulders and ignored the ‘you are a fool’ taunts.

Somehow, in our collective social conscience, we feel it is okay to load on freebies when someone else is paying for it. Tap the electric pole and draw power illegally; or draw the cable for the cable TV stealthily...the list is endless – and what’s more, be proud about the cunningness.

The Kalmadis, Reddys, Gowdas have all risen from amidst us, with this very same mindset. Some where a manager thought it is okay to forge a medical bill, and make that Rs.150 look like Rs. 750. When it came to Kalmadi et al, it was the same act – only the amount was different. The motivation was the same – kis ka baap ka jaatha hai?

And we’ve all grown up in an environment of bribery. We don’t even spare God from our bribes. ‘If I win the election, I will put a diamond crown on Tirupathi Balaji.’ ‘If I pass this exam, then I will shave my head.’ ‘If I get married in the next 45 days, then I will put a silk saree for Durga’ and so on. We have time-bound, money-bound pacts with God which has nothing to do with devotion and faith and prayers. Isn’t dowry a form of bribe too? ‘Here are two sites, a car and 3 crores in cash. In return, please treat our daughter like a human being.’ Is it any surprise that bribery has become a way of governance in itself?

But hold on! Is this the problem only with Indians? Not at all. In UK, many MPs were caught in an expenses scandal – where they lied and claimed excess money. Again, these are well-educated, well-off people. Like our fellows, these guys too exploited an opportunity to make several extra bucks. And from the shores of USA emerged the biggest sharks of the 21st century. The Banker Boys. Greed is one of the universal sins of mankind; indeed a deadly sin because of which the sufferings today are innumerable. But the difference lies in how the corruption is handled.

Societies everywhere, all over the world are hierarchical. This has been the case from time immemorial, and will continue to be so till the apocalypse. There will be one leader and his ministers ruling over the rest of the masses. Yes, there is democracy; but that does not change the fact that you, as a commoner, will bear the brunt of taxes and funding cuts and live in your cramped home, while the leaders you CHOSE and ELECTED to work for YOU live in relative luxury. They will not be the ones worrying about the winter and heating bills and mortgage. Also, wherever there is money and power, there WILL be corruption. This is a universal truth, and the faster we accept it, the better we will be able to deal with it. The only thing we can control is the extent of the corruption. For this, rallies and satyagrahas are not the answer in this day and age. Yes, we have all made a point loud and clear – that we are AWARE and UNHAPPY about all the scams; and we are no longer passive spectators. But beyond this, the whole thing becomes a tiresome comedy circus.

Corruption cannot be fought with such disorganised, ill-informed, knee jerk reactions. Corruption cannot be wiped away through arm-twisting tactics and emotional blackmail. Personally, I am wary of anyone who whips up emotional mass frenzy. Corruption can at best be MINIMISED by use of technology in bringing about transparency in governance. Of course, this has to be coupled with several changes in the way we operate in our daily lives. I would say the first thing is to remove God and religion from the political arena, and keep it personal, the way it is meant to be. Secondly, there has to be a better way of selecting people who can even STAND for elections. Thirdly, and most importantly – we as citizens should grow up. We should admit that we are all enmeshed like flies in a spider’s web when it comes to a corrupt system. We cannot act like we are the innocent, morally upright downtrodden class, while the political class is an alien, thieving layer. We need to develop enough maturity to understand that popularity is not necessarily the mark of leadership.
If we need good governance, we need able administrators; we need tough-as-nails leaders and ruthless negotiators. We need someone who has a clear vision and strategy for the country, instead of some irrelevant ideology. So can we please stop hankering after movie-stars and gurus (and god forbid, cricketers) to ‘lead’ us?

If we want to minimise corruption, then we as individuals need to develop a social conscience, cultivate an awareness of our rights and responsibilities and engage with the political class in a meaningful way to bring about accountability. We cannot evade tax using some loophole, and then in the same breath complain about ‘corrupt government officials’. We cannot go and vote for a Bollywood hero because he had all the hit songs and dance moves; and then complain that he is unable to understand the complexity of governance. We cannot keep viewing the news channel that is 90% movie gossip and 10% crappy reporting; and complain of a biased and stupid media – you are the one upping their TRP. We cannot salivate over Sheila and Munni but expect virginal saints to rule over us. We cannot use our cars to go to the mall 10 minutes away from home, and then complain about noise and pollution and trees being axed to accommodate traffic. If we want corruption out of the public life, then we must stem it in our personal lives.

Is it possible in India? Yes. Is it probable? I don’t know; we are too fractured in our opinions and priorities.

© Sumana Khan - 2011


  1. Hi Sumana,
    An excellent read. While we fret over the officials we evade our own within to check how 'uncorrupted' we are. These things dont stop or minimize in 3-4 years. we need to cleanse within... Its a slow process but does an Indian have that virtue and patience?
    the other day I went to cops to lodge a complaint for my stolen purse. I could do it without "greasing" anyone's palms. However, when the job was done I felt like treating that cop as the work was done. Somewhere we have imbibed this culture of acknowledging a work and that today has been grown into this corruption thing.. Maybe someday... we will overcome this urge and be more mature..

    Till then... "mamoool" continues :)

  2. Here is the man behind the Zero rupee note!

  3. Aruna...thanks :) I thought the depiction is brilliant.

  4. Deception is completely unintended but it works for my advantage....

  5. dense as usual :) artha aaglilla!

  6. Nice Read Moonbeam - I'm doing research for a music video about corruption, and I stopped and read your whole article - it's not just India, it's the world over. I'm from New Zealand and we all suffer from the same issues, it's just more hidden here. And I totally agree with your comments about addressing our own lives first!

    1. thanks for stopping by photoNZ. Would love to see your music video whenever it goes up :)


Post a Comment