Among the people corrupt…

Corruption is the most predominating concern in our country these days. Now and then, we hear so many ongoing debates on the corruption only to conclude that it is a symptom of our deep-seated economic, political and institutional weaknesses. Political instability, bureaucratic red tape, weak legislative and judicial systems, tax evasion, misuse of public sector expenditures, underground economy – so many things to name. We need reforms – in anti corruption enforcements, police force, law system, courts - reforms in everything.

But one thing is for sure; to be effective, measures against corruption must address the underlying root cause and not the symptoms. What is the root cause of corruption anyways? Is it the weak economic, political or legislative system?

The root cause of every problem is at individual level. But we usually find it easier to put fingers on things other than us - to external factors. Politicians, bureaucrats, law enforcement institutions are all made up of people like us. We cannot condemn them, while we can grant an undue favour to some friend or relative at our company’s expense or when we can violate the traffic rules when traffic police is not around. At individual level, a person, who can break a queue to be served before its turn, can easily break laws at institutional and national level, if provided a chance. It’s all the matter of who is provided a chance to do corruption and at what level.

Here, it will be good to raise this question as to why are we so corrupt as individuals? Why we can’t stand queues, speed limits or any other codes of conduct? Are the reasons again political, economical and judicial? They are a bit social.

The root cause of corruption is people’s desire to earn respect in society, not their drive to have more money and better status. The motivation behind every single thing we do is ultimately a drive to earn respect - to justify ourselves that we are good enough. The great robbers rob only to get money enough, so that people could one day give them the respect reserved for rich class only. The motive behind getting a good job, in anyway possible even if it involves nepotism is to get counted among the so called rich class; the intention behind getting a brand new car and labelled outfits is again to be treated with reverence.

Especially, in our part of the world, where we still couldn’t liberate ourselves from the legacy of our ancestors - semi converted Hindus and the Arabian invaders. We are still not able to unshackle the social stratifications created on the basis of materialism. Brahmin, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras have only replaced the lower, working, middle and rich class. These classes earn their respect in the society accordingly to their status. Neither could we free ourselves from the psyche of our Arabian ancestors who couldn’t stand to queue up with their captives who were the majority of residents. We have learnt to link up respect to one’s status in society and their possessions.

We can’t eliminate one’s desire to be respected, but what we can do is stop attaching respect to material things - ethnicity, profession, property and possessions. Respect people for who they are as individuals. Respect them for their moral values and their behaviours. If we could treat a milkman equal to the seth with BMW, the milkman probably won’t find an urge to mix water in the milk. Why can’t we say thank you in a courteous way to the worker at the fuel station for filling gas. Why can’t we offer greetings to the cleaners across the roads on the way to our morning walk? While these things may sound petty, but the impact they would make is great and like I said every change has to start at individual level. Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.

Bushra Naz

Published on 9 July 2010, Daily Mail
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