A litany of corruption scandals in India have been making headlines for the past year. These scams are being brought to light in such rapid succession that there is now a paper (JanLokpal Daily) and even a hash tag on Twitter #LootLoIndia dedicated solely to breaking this news. This however, in some ways, is heartening. Corruption has been rampant in the country for decades. The very fact that these scandals, once taken for granted, are now considered newsworthy is a sign of new citizen engagement and mobilization.
India’s rapid economic growth has created a new middle-class that refuses to accept the status quo. Urbanization and growth has mobilized a new generation of Indians that expect the fruits of economic development to reach them without being pilfered by corrupt middlemen and bureaucrats. Tens of thousands of Indians rallied around an anti-corruption Bill, the Jan Lokpal Bill last year, hailing its figurehead, Anna Hazare, as the Gandhi of the 21st century. According to a 2011 Facebook report, the Bill was the most mentioned topic on Indian statuses.
Although this revolutionary bill was (unsurprisingly) shelved, change is still clearly afoot. A strong illustration of this point is Bihar, India’s poorest state. Once known as the Jungle Raaj for its lack of governance and rampant corruption, it has now been named the least corrupt state in the country, and even hailed by other countries for its good governance and rule of law. This state has set a strong example for others in the country in using technology to introduce accountability and transparency in governance. The Chief Minister, largely credited for introducing strong political reform in the state, has introduced a system to ensure that the hand-written grievances of citizens are posted on the Internet, and complaints of bribery are loaded onto YouTube to shame corrupt officials.
While other Chief Ministers might not be as bent on fighting the system from which they greatly benefit, a technology revolution in the country continues to build new frameworks to fight corruption. India has a famously outspoken Twitter community, and sites that monitor corruption such as IPaidABribe.com and that publish public and criminal records of politicians continue to flourish. The website that organized the rally around the Jan Lokpal Bill, India Against Corruption, has grown into a veritable force as it continues to promote its cause and engage with the public both online and online.
Additionally, as internet penetration in India remains poor, groups are looking at other using forms of technology to increase transparency in the country. As more Indians now have more mobile phones than toilets, Stanford’s Program on Liberation Technology is examining the uses of mobile phones in social audit. Perhaps the most inspiring of these innovative programs is Aadhaar, a Unique Identification (UID) project. This is one of the most ambitious programs to have ever been undertaken by the Indian government and has been assigned the Herculean task of creating the world’s largest biometric database in order to assign over billion Indians a Unique Identity Number to ensure intended recipients benefit from government subsidies designed for them.
And yet, it is clear that mobilizing the masses online and promoting transparency through technology is not sufficient to battle corruption. Effective laws, speedy trials, an honest police-force, and the political will to fight corruption are essential elements of the struggle; but shaming corrupt officials publicly and instilling a sense of accountability is an important first step.
India has a long way to go before this movement translates into better governance and improved infrastructure. Yet, news that the government is doing its best to hamper this internet revolution by censoring social media and dragging Google and Facebook to court is a sure sign that the movement is making progress.
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