Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Indian Blasphemy: Constable takes bribe from road side vendors

There is a lot of talk going on in the Indian leadership circles about what needs to be changed about India in order to push its progress. Amongst the suggestions thrown up was education for all, control of population, personal responsibility, a better government and so on. One of the most common suggestions was the annihilation of corruption. Makes sense, doesn't it? Easier said than done? But what I witnessed two days ago made me realize anew just how close to impossible this task is.

There I was, with my mom, shopping in the Shivajinagar bazaar in Bangalore. It was 4 o' clock in the afternoon and the area was packed with avid shoppers. The heat was unbearable so we stopped and picked up two kala khaTTa golas (Ice popsicles) which a little boy was selling for ten rupees each. Next to his stall was a man who was selling popcorn on a cart. We took our golas and moved aside to cool off. That’s when this pot bellied police constable strolled up to the man selling popcorn. He picked up a packet and in turn asked the vendor to pay him 50 rupees. The vendor smiled cordially and while indulging in small talk, stealthily handed the amount to the police man. The vendor seemed more eager to cover up this act than the law enforcer.

The constable then moved on and collected a gola and another 50 rupees from the boy selling them. All this happened in broad day light, in front of all the people present in the vicinity. What bugged me the most, was the attitude with the constable collected the bribes. He held his head high, behaved as though he was doing the vendors a favour, swinging his cane baton all the time.

The constable moved on. We finished our golas and went ahead with our shopping. A little down the same lane, an old man was selling jogging pants at an asking price of 150 rupees. As soon as he noticed hesitation on my part, he brought the price down to 125 rupees. Another woman joined us and started bargaining, asking him to sell it for 100 rupees. She walked off when he refused. The man must have been really frustrated to pour his heart out to a customer. He said that, he too, had paid 50 rupees to the constable we had seen earlier. He said that what the constable collected randomly on a daily basis, was in addition to a fixed monthly amount the vendors had to pay him to be able to sell their products.

Sure, road side selling of products is illegal but this is the only way that these men and women of all ages have to make a decent living. Corruption at such a base level, which exploits those who aren't even capable of supporting themselves, is simply inhuman and can carry no justification.

How does anyone fight a phenomenon like this? We as Indians are used to this kind of corruption, that in response to the question of what should be changed about India, someone responded ‘Nothing, India is what it is’. Sure, India has its own identity and its flaws make it look very poetic. But is mysticism worth the troubles of the common man? I know that the abolition of such social evils require mass movements, much like the one which got us our freedom. I know that this is a nearly impossible task. However, we can, at the very least, WANT to eradicate corruption? At the very least?

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