Thursday, April 28, 2011

We Go To Bed With Corruption and It Joins Us On Our Morning Walk

"Well, who's behind the anti-corruption bill?" she said. "I have friends in Allahabad who say that Prashant and Shanti Bhushan aren't quite as clean as they make themselves out to be."

I don't quite know what happened to me when I heard my friend say that. There we were, having a sensible discussion about the Right to Education Act and there I was thinking how smart and well-informed this woman was. Then I made a point about the importance of the anti-corruption bill being passed if we were to address the issue of corruption in education and she said what she said about Prashant and Shanti.

I was stunned. "Stop right there." I said, my voice trembling a bit. "You are speaking about people I know and love. These are people I would stake my honor, my name and my own integrity on - to my last breath. No one will slander them in my presence."

"Don't you see what they are doing?" I asked. "This is divide and rule. They get people like us to start doubting our own and then it's just two steps to victory. The charges against the Bhushans are baseless, fabricated! How can anyone believe them?"

To her credit, my friend - who is brilliant, thoughtful and well-read - immediately backed down. She apologized, and said she would clarify things with her friends in Allahabad. But it got me thinking. If someone like her, who reads widely and thinks analytically, could be taken in by the lies being spread about these two good men, what about the general public? Those people who mostly just glance at the headlines and accept what is printed in the daily papers as Gospel? Is there any hope at all?

Has corruption so infected our souls that we can no longer even tell good from evil? Have we become so distrustful, so willing to believe ill of others that we can't see what is in front of us?

If you think corruption means just having to pay a bribe to get a service which is rightfully yours, think again. It's part of everything we do, every single day. It determines how we think and what we believe. It defines our relationships and dictates our behaviour. Our health, our safety, our routines and our attitudes are all created, infected and reinforced by corruption. Corruption now defines who we are.

Corruption is why my mother-in-law broke her back on a car ride from Delhi to Dehradun. It was corruption that diverted traffic from the national highway so that kanwaria pilgrims could take it over for their annual walk to Haridwar. Corrupt politics ensures that religious vote banks determine highway policy. Corruption in the PWD allows the village roads to which we were diverted to be neglected and full of potholes. Elderly lady breaks her back? Blame corruption.

Corruption killed a child I know who was electrocuted at a wedding, for what but corruption allows tent wallas to set up shamianas anywhere they please with live wires trailing here and there in blatant violation of safety codes?

Corruption is why we all still boil our milk every morning in spite of it being pasteurized and - supposedly - safe to drink as is. None of us trust the dairies to have followed standard refrigeration protocols - and inspectors can always be paid off.

Corruption means I have to drive out each night to pick up the woman who works as a night nurse in our house. If her son drops her off on his bicycle, he will be hassled and possibly beaten up by the cops at the corner. Their rule is unquestioned. They got their jobs by paying huge bribes and they will recoup their losses by extorting money from innocent victims.

Corruption means that our hearts and our souls have been invaded. We are so accustomed now to assuming the worst that it simply doesn't occur to us that people can still be genuinely good at heart, can still be willing to sacrifice their comfort and security for the good of the nation, can still put their own reputations on the line in the service of a greater good.

I'm here to say publicly that Prashant and Shanti Bhushan are men of honor and integrity, that they don't care two figs for the slanderous campaigns being waged against them and that if enough of us stand with them, then corruption will lose and the truth shall prevail.


Rebecca Chatta said...

Thsnk you Jo, for so eloquently stating the tough truth about the rule of law: to work, it must apply universally. This is why the Congress is so shaken up by the Jan Lokpal Bill and willing to tacitly agree to allow the Bhushans to be publicly bullied by mobsters; they cannot face giving up their corrupt privileges.

It is easy to understand that even informed people believe some of what has been said about the Bhushans, because SO MUCH has been said. The truth will come out too!

When people realize that Prashant and Uncle are every bit as decent and principled as they demand the judiciary to be, they will understand that character and honesty can coexist with great prosperity. Maybe then the tables can be turned, and the people can take advantage of the government, at long last. Being the world's largest democracy must count for something!

Jo Chopra McGowan said...

Rebecca, I love your take on all this craziness. It must be fascinating to you watching this unfold from your unique perspective as a lawyer, a family member and a foreigner . . .

Rahul Banerjee said...

The campaign against the Bhushans was so well orchestrated that I too was taken in for some time with regard to the Allahabad land deal. However, I checked with people and finally I received a detailed note prepared by Prashant giving clarifications regarding the various allegations against them. I have uploaded this note onto the Net for wider circulation -

Jo Chopra McGowan said...

Thanks, Rahul! I'll share the link widely.