Corruption in India: My Changing Tide

“Corruption in India begins at birth. You need to bribe someone for a birth certificate. It ends only at death when you bribe for a death certificate.”

These were the words offered to me by an Indian man, and during the 8 years that I lived in the country the man’s advice rang true.

It started when I first arrived in the country and collected my unaccompanied luggage from the airport.

“Something for me,” the customs official demanded.

I feigned ignorance with a shrug. It didn’t work. I ended up forking out $1 while internally scolding myself for giving in to corruption.

It continued when I moved into a house and the government garbage collector rang my doorbell once a month with her open palm thrust towards me. One month she inflated the charge by 100% (perhaps her child’s birthday was approaching) and I refused to pay. She, in turn, refused to remove my rubbish bag from the front of the house.  So the next time she fronted up with her hand out I gave in.

It became irritating when the postman tried to charge me ‘tax’ for a returned package in the mail. The amount he wanted was greater than the cost of the goods in the package.

“I’m not paying,” I said. “You can keep the package.”

“Madam, I cannot.”

“Give it to your wife,” I closed my front door.

It got worse when my driver was regularly pulled over by the traffic police for fictional offences. “What to do, Madam?” he smiled at me.

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When I realised that nothing could be accomplished in India without bribing somebody, I followed my driver’s advice. What to do? I discarded my morals and forced myself to find humour in it.

“Tip, Madam?” said the gasman.

I chuckled as I dropped some coins in his hand. What he calls a tip, I call a bribe.

“Diwali bonus?” requested a delivery boy.

I smirked as he shoved my rupee notes in his pocket.

I have fought against corruption. I have given in to corruption. I have been irritated by it and humoured by it. That is my changing tide.


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