On August 16th, 74-year old social activist Anna Hazare started what would become a 12-day fast and government standoff in protest of the corruption that runs rampant in Indian society. The focus of his protest was a call for the passage of a bill that would create an independent office to address cases of government corruption. Team Anna won a decisive victory on August 27th when a bill that met their demands was passed through parliament. Under this ruling an independent Lokpal will be established to handle cases of government corruption.
Despite the overwhelming public support for Hazare’s anti-corruption movement, many Indians I talked to during the days of the protest said Hazare was simply the latest star player in India’s ongoing game of protest politics and would soon be forgotten. Swept up in the excitement of it all, I didn’t want to believe their cynicism but in the following weeks, as new corruption scams, a bombing in New Delhi, and other events took Anna’s place on the front page, I too began to question whether anything has really changed here.
I visited the scene at Ramlila Maiden grounds one afternoon during the protest and was impressed by the level of organization and order, the likes of which one would never see during the average New Delhi rush hour, much less expect to encounter at a political protest. I was asked by many Indians if I knew what was going on, did I know why this man was fasting, and did I support his cause? I voiced my support for the cause but also pointed out that what is most important in the fight against corruption is not the protest slogans and banners, but the way each of us conducts ourselves when the protest is over and we go home.
The new Lokpal will have legal clout over corrupt public officials but will prove impotent against a culture of corruption if ordinary citizens don’t stop paying and accepting bribes.
According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), India falls in the middle of the pack in terms of corruption with a ranking of 87. Indians are fighting a difficult battle against corruption which is present in all levels of society from top to bottom. Almost weekly, a new scandal involving a cash-for-votes scam, private use of public funds, or the fixing of a government contract shows up in the news. Outside the halls of parliament those citizens who can pay and accept bribes to avoid tickets, expedite legal proceedings, or process important documents such as pension collection forms. India’s notoriously bureaucratic public sector has little time for the pleas of ordinary citizens, but responds quickly to cash.
There is recent good news in the fight against corruption and bribery. On Sunday, the chapter of India Against Corruption in the Mumbai suburb of Pune will launch a “Say no to bribe” campaign supported by Hazare and his team. I hope this renewal of the anti-corruption hype stays around long enough to promote the necessary behavior change and deal a fatal blow to the plague of corruption in Indian society.
Photo Credit: Anna Schumacher