Support swells as citizens lobby for anti-graft law in India
DELHI, India, Oct. 20 (UPI) -- The wedding bells were set to chime in December and all the preparations made, yet by the end of November the bride’s arrival date hadn't been confirmed.
New Delhi resident Sabia Ogne said she thought she had meticulously planned out every detail for her special day for Dec. 30, 2008. This included booking passage to Dubai, the site of her impending nuptials.
The only problem was the passport needed to transport her to the festivities hadn't arrived.
Ogne had applied for the document months in advance. Although nervous, she remained optimistic about its delivery. At the beginning of December, however, a police constable came to her house to verify the details and demanded a bribe, suggesting the passport would be otherwise delayed.
Fearing the worst, she paid.
Frustration mounted as Ogne had to pay a secondary bribe to a postman to have the document safely delivered into her hands.
Although Ogne had less money in her wallet, she finally cleared the way to make it to her wedding.
This is considered a typical scenario of a corrupt system of bribery in India, where it is estimated more than 1 million Indians pay bribes every day to receive the most basic of government services, including getting a driver's license, pension or having a death certificate issued.
India ranks 87 out of 178 countries in a corruption study published in 2010 by Transparency International, a global civil society organization dedicated to fighting government and judiciary corruption.
India scored 3.3 on a scale of 10 on TI’s Corruption Perception Index, a tool used to measure the perceived levels of public sector corruption. Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore topped the list with marks of 9.3. Nations having higher scores were considered by TI as having less corruption.
Sakina Azad faced a similar situation to Ogne's when she lodged a police complaint that her phone had been stolen.
“The officer tactfully conveyed that the complaint would only be looked into if I coughed up some cash,” she said.
The injustice of India’s system of bribery and corruption doesn't stop with residents, as foreigners also have to pay the price to navigate through a typical day.
“Everyone is out to cheat you here," said Jules Legaudu, a French exchange student of International Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. “Not only does the auto rickshaw driver blatantly refuse to charge by the meter, but I was also charged a foreign tourist’s fare of $10 at the Red Fort (New Delhi), though I have a resident student’s visa which entitles me to pay only 50 cents.”
Ogne’s anger over obtaining a passport drove her to a protest with thousands of like-minded people to take a Say No to Bribes Oath. The movement began Aug. 16 at the Ramlila Grounds in New Delhi.
The event was spearheaded by Magsaysay Award-winning social activist Anna Hazare, 74, and lasted 13 days. As its popularity swelled and moved through towns and cities across the country, it emerged as one of the largest protests that India has witnessed since gaining independence from Great Britain in the 1940s.
Officials of India Against Corruption, the group responsible for promoting Hazare’s movement, said more than 30,000 people attended the protests at the Ramlila Grounds during the workweek. The numbers rose to more than 50,000 on holidays and weekends.
Hazare followed in the footsteps of Mahatma Gandhi, taking to a nonviolent form of protest by fasting and demanding a strong anti-graft law. It has resulted in the creation of the Jan Lokpal Bill.
If the new bill is passed in Parliament, it would lead to the creation of an ombudsman system similar to the way Scandinavian nations investigate the functioning of government bodies. It seeks to bring the highest, as well as lowest, government functionary within its watchful eye, ensuring greater transparency and less room for bribes.
“The proposed Jan Lokpal Bill, which proposes to ensure 'timely completion of investigation and trials for corruption,' not exceeding 18 months, is expected to make the complaint mechanism efficient and effective,” said Sharmishtha Sharma, former journalist and core team member of IAC.
The court will also consider the higher rank of the accused person to mete out a more severe penalty, said Shivendra Singh Chauhan, moderator of the IAC Web site and its Facebook page.
“Corruption can only be eradicated if both the government and society come together to act in concert. Corruption thrives because people don’t even bat an eyelid before paying bribes. Since the people have given their word, they will be forced to think twice before giving or taking bribes," Chauhan said.
“The ball is now in the court of government and opposition parties.
“After passing a Sense of House in August on the Jan Lokpal Bill, we expect them not to go back on their words.”
The bill is under review of the Parliament’s Standing Committee. It is to be tabled during the coming winter session.
Both IAC and Hazare extended pressure on the ruling party by campaigning for the Jan Lokpal Bill in a constituency whereby elections were conducted for a Lok Sabha (House of Commons) seat Oct.13. They urged citizens to vote for a candidate only if the politician vowed to support the bill.
As a result of their efforts, the ruling party decisively lost the election, trailing third behind opposition candidates. On the same date, assembly elections were conducted in two states and the ruling party failed to secure a majority in those as well.
As the momentum grows, both the IAC and Hazare have vowed to keep pressure on legislators until India becomes a nation known for its strength, empowerment and independence from corruption and bribery.