Social Sciences

The Eight-Step Method To Confront Corruption At The Local Level

This is the eighth part of Dr. Prabhakar Kamath’s latest series on Managing Life Without God and Religion In The Twenty First Century. Links to all published parts in this series can be found here.

In the previous article, we studied some basic information Organizing Activists need to launch a viable Citizen Activists Group (C.A.G.) at the local level. In this article we will study how by means of an eight-step method Citizen-Activists could tame the corrupt and recalcitrant bureaucracy representing what is euphemistically known as the Government of India.

From Facebook To Face-down

In India today millions of highly educated and brilliant youngsters chat incessantly about one topic or another on their Facebook. They spend many hours afb_share_dontstopthere day expressing their opinion about whatever good or bad stuff going on in their lives and the society they live in. While such chat is good to raise one’s awareness of widespread corruption and injustice endemic in India, that alone is practically useless to bring about the urgently needed changes in the society. Some methodical action is needed. In Tunisia, one disgusted man’s willingness to sacrifice his own life changed the entire Arab world. In Egypt, one young woman who wrote on her Facebook, “I will be at the Tahrir Square today,” and showed up there as promised, inspired thousands of people to protest at the Square, leading to the overthrow of a corrupt and repressive government. In India, Anna Hazare’s fasting to force the government to pass a strong Lokpal Bill motivated thousands of people to show up at Jantar Mantar to support him and to shake a comatose government, which, by the way, is still yet to wake up. The government has learned, however, that it cannot ignore thousands of people showing up in the streets demanding reform. For permanent results, however, we must convert every citizen into an activist and teach him that democracy is much more that throwing the rascal out every five years. One must deal with the government on a day-to-day basis.

Break The Back Of The Broker System

Today just about everyone in India requires a broker to get any service from any government office. How did this system come into being? To avoid getting caught red-handed (not that there was anyone around to catch them, for almost everyone is corrupt) bureaucrats came up with a system of brokers who accepted bribe in the form of a fee from citizens and conveyed it secretly to the officials. These middlemen then took a cut for their service. For example, to get a license for anything, which costs ten rupees, the broker charges the citizen a hundred rupees. He gives fifty rupees to the official and keeps fifty rupees to himself. All one has to do is to find the broker, who usually has an office nearby, pay him the bribe money and the job is given priority. The broker does all the tedious paperwork. Many people don’t mind paying this “fee” because they have plenty of black money they don’t know what to do with. The broker system has become the outstanding symbol of alienation of people from their own government. The system is so well entrenched that the official does not think he is doing anything wrong. It is simply business as usual. This system further enables people’s passivity and fear of authorities. It is time we broke the back of this abominable system.

Dealing With Help-Seekers

No sooner does the local community perceive C.A.G as a principled and selfless organization dedicated to guiding people to solve their problems free of cost, than people from all walks of life start knocking on its door. This is a given. If the O.A. holds a fulltime job, he would have to set aside one or two hours a day in the evening to meet with aggrieved people at a designated place. If at all possible, at least a few members of the ad hoc committee should participate in this activity on a daily basis. The O.A. must train all ad hoc committee members the basic principles and modus operandi of the C.G.A. so that they are all on the same page when it comes to teaching the aggrieved citizens how to become true Citizen-Activists.

Most people seeking help come with the usual expectation that the C.A.G. would take up their problem and solve it for them. In other words, they think of C.A.G. as just another brokerage except that they charge no fee. We cannot blame them for thinking like this, as they do not know any better. This is a great opportunity for C.A.G. activist to eliminate passivity and empower them.

Step One: Triage

The first thing for the O.A. to determine is whether the aggrieved citizen asking his intervention has a genuine case of injustice perpetrated by a government official. This requires the O.A. to listen patiently to the complaint and examine any document he/she has to back it up. If the complaint has to do with a personal dispute between the complainer and another private citizen, such as financial or land dispute, the activist should not get involved in the case. The O.A. must have a clear understanding as to who the aggrieved citizen is and who the government official causing his problem.

Step Two: Educating The Citizen

Once the O.A. establishes the citizen’s complaint as valid, he teaches the citizen how to create a legal document. This consists of a letter written by the aggrieved citizen to the official concerned demanding service without a bribe. It is important that the O.A. educate the citizen that without a legal document it is impossible to pursue his case. Very often the citizen would be very disappointed to hear this bit of bad news, for he expected his problem to be solved right away. He believes that the O.A. would pat him on his back and say, “Arey baba, don’t worry; leave everything to me. I will take care of it for you! Go home!” He believes, as most people in India do, that writing a letter to a government official is an exercise in futility. He expects the O.A. to call the concerned official to use his “influence” to get things moving. The O.A. must explain to the citizen that he is not a broker, and its goal is to empower the citizen to get his job done by himself. Therefore, he must patiently work at it as guided by the O.A.

When it comes to writing the letter, consistent with his philosophy of passivity (“I shall do absolutely nothing”), the citizen might expect the O.A. to write the letter on his behalf. If the citizen is illiterate the O.A. could draft the letter for him and have him sign it. If the citizen is literate, the O.A. should instruct him how to write a letter to the erring official, and to keep two copies of the letter in his/her dedicated file. If the passive citizen says, “I have no time to write this letter! I thought you guys would do all that!” the O.A. should politely reply, “I am sorry that you have no time to solve your own problem. I have no time for it either. Now if you will excuse me, I have some other things to catch up with. If you change your mind do not hesitate to come back.” Case closed.

Step Three: Creating A Legal Document

The letter to the errant official must be brief, to the point and assertive. Its importance lies in the fact that it becomes a legally valid document:

Mr. So and so,

The purpose of this letter is to let you know the following:

1. On such and such a date I directly applied for such and such a service at your office. I did not go through a broker who deals with your office. It has been over a month and I have not received the service I should have.

2. I have reason to believe that the delay in this matter is motivated by considerations other than the merit of the case. This is to notify you that such consideration, whatever it might be, is against the law.

3. This is to notify you that if I do not get the needed service within a week from today, I will pursue this matter with your superiors and demand that he take appropriate action against you.

4. In addition to filing a complaint against you with your boss, I will take this matter up with the Vigilance Department or with the court.”

Sincerely,

Signed: So and so.

Copy to your boss, C.A.G. and the local newspaper and television station.”

Note here that the citizen does not make obsequious statements such as, “Please do this and that” or, “Yours most obedient servant.”

There is nearly 90% chance that the erring official would ignore the above letter thinking that if he did nothing at all, the aggrieved citizen would just give up in frustration. He is in for a rude shock.

Step Four: Creating A Breach Between Officials

If the citizen returns to the O.A. complaining that he has not received a reply from the official within a week, the O.A. encourages him not to get disheartened. The O.A. tells the citizen to draft another letter, which is addressed to the boss of the corrupt official:

Mr. So and so,

Subject: A formal complaint against Mr. So and so.

1. I am writing this letter to file a formal complaint with you about the behavior of your official by the name of so and so. He has not taken the needed action to provide me the service even though I have submitted the required documents. I am certain that had I gone through a broker, my license would have been issued by now.

2. I request you to investigate this matter immediately and let me know why he has not provided me the needed service. If I do not receive the requested service within a week from today, I will consider appropriate action against your department with your superiors as well as the Vigilance Department or the court.

Sd/- So and so

Please note that a copy of this letter has been hand delivered to the official concerned, and also a copy has been sent to Citizens Activist Group, the local newspaper, television station, and the Chief Minister for further action.”

There is nearly 99% chance that this tactic would bring the desired result immediately.

Step Five: Gaining Public Support

If the above tactic does not work, the O.A. should organize a campaign to raise public opinion about the problem. The behavior of recalcitrant officials should be given wide publicity in newspapers, Internet, television and other media. People should be encouraged to write letters to the superiors of the concerned officials.

Step Six: Legal Action

If the aggrieved person could establish that the government official has violated the law, he could file a lawsuit in the court. The problem with filing the lawsuit is that it takes a long time to resolve the issue in the court. However, a simple lawyer notice to the concerned official expressing the intent to sue might be enough in most cases to solve the problem. However, it is mighty hard to find a good lawyer who does not rip off his clients. In India, lawyers are not guardians of the Constitution. In fact, most of them are brokers themselves.

Step Seven: Direct Action: Protest Marchsathyagraha-mg

This is potentially the most dangerous part of C.A.G.’s activities. For, in India it does not take much to provoke a riot. The O.A. must thoroughly train marchers about the need to be peaceful and nonviolent at all time. They should not throw stones, call their adversaries names, stop traffic, or indulge in other antisocial behaviors. On a given day activists and aggrieved citizens march to the office where corruption is rampant. They notify the police about their proposed action. They march peacefully and silently to the office. They must never attack bureaucrats verbally or physically. They should demand to meet with the officials to let them know that the public is disgusted by whatever corruption going on there. They do not leave until the officials agree to stop their corrupt practices there. The officials should be told in no uncertain terms that if the corrupt practices continue protesters would be back.

Step Eight: Satyagraha

This term means, “Persuasion by Truth” or “Insisting on Truth.” As we witnessed recently, even idiots call their dastardly acts of protest Satyagraha. In view of this sad situation I shall devote my next article exclusively to explain the exact principles of Satyagraha. I do not recommend Satyagraha to Organizing Activists who have not thoroughly studied H. D. Thoreau, M. K. Gandhi and M. L. King, Jr.

Ripple Effect

Such hands-on experience of successfully exercising one’s rights as an empowered person is infinitely more useful to the citizen than listening to a hundred thundering speeches. The immediate benefit from such experience is that he becomes a Citizen-Activist. In the long term, he becomes the model for others to emulate. Another byproduct of the C.A.G.’s work would be that neighboring towns would follow the model set up by the local C.A.G. The speed with which the ripple effect occurs can be surprising even to a most modest Organizing Activist.

Pitfalls

There are several potential pitfalls in the course of these steps. I will mention just two here:

1. The aggrieved citizen might be in the wrong and the information he gave to the O.A. might be erroneous, misleading or an outright lie. The O.A. must make sure that before recommending any action the veracity of the complaint is thoroughly confirmed. If the mistake has already been made, the citizen and the O.A. must offer an apology to the wronged official and widest publicity should be given to it.

2. The O.A. and the successful citizens might become drunk on their success and begin to act arrogant with officials as well as people seeking their assistance. They must behave with utmost humility all the time. The O.A. must always stay in the background, away from the limelight. He must avoid bragging in the public how many cases he has helped solve, how he humiliated officials, and the like. People in India are very sensitive to such boasting, and it does not take long for the O.A. to lose his moral authority. Once lost it is impossible to regain it. People would say, “We thought this person was different. After all, he/she is as arrogant and corrupt as our politicians and bureaucrats!”

The point is that in the process of serving his society the activist should have high level of self-awareness and self-control, and he should experience personal growth in the course of his work. As I mentioned in one of my previous articles, the Organizing Activist is the weakest link in this whole process. Few O.A.s have the self-awareness and self-control to resist the temptation to abuse their power and fame. The danger of conquering passivity and fear is that they invariably fall prey to fame and power. This is the single most important reason why most Citizen-Activist Groups suffer premature death in India.

(To be continued)

About the author

Prabhakar Kamath

Dr. Prabhakar Kamath, is a psychiatrist currently practicing in the U.S. He is the author of Servants, Not Masters: A Guide for Consumer Activists in India (1987) and Is Your Balloon About To Pop?: Owner’s Manual for the Stressed Mind.

Links to all articles in Dr. Kamath's earlier series on Heretics, Rebels, Reformers and Revolutionaries can be found here. Dr. Kamath' series on The Truth About The Bhagavad Gita can be found here.

7 Comments

  • Dear Dr.Kamath,
    Yes indeed, such a group can start a revolution no doubt. As a psychiatrist you will agree with me when I say that this group will back out when it is too hot form them to handle. They will give all types of excuses why it it did not work out and how bis is the problem so that they could not handle it. To start a group is very easy, but to run it for a sustainable period is a herculean job which needs commitment and courage.
    I would like to quote a Rabbi here as he puts it ” YOU ARE NOT OBLIGED TO FINISH THE WORK; NEITHER ARE YOU FREE TO EVADE IT.
    Work for a better society we must, but accept that all injustice or corruption cannot be eliminated.
    One thing I am sure is that when a situation becomes beyond repair a revolution is a must and that is what is going on now.
    In order to sustain such a revolution INDIVIDUALS with courage and commitment is the basic need. We will have to generate this slowly ans steadily. No legislation will change the mind set of a human but a VALUE BASED SYSTEM only can do this change.
    THanks and regards
    Vasudev Nair

    • Hi Mr. Nair,

      You said: Yes indeed, such a group can start a revolution no doubt.

      My response: Nowhere in my articles there was mention of the word revolution. I do not believe in revolution at all. Revolution suggests overthrowing the government. My approach is reformation of people. I clearly mentioned many times that the approach to solve the problem of corruption is to educate and empower people. Corruption in India is symbolic of failure of people.

      You said: As a psychiatrist you will agree with me when I say that this group will back out when it is too hot form them to handle. They will give all types of excuses why it did not work out and how this is the problem so that they could not handle it. To start a group is very easy, but to run it for a sustainable period is a herculean job, which needs commitment and courage.

      My response: If you read my articles carefully, I said many times that it is not easy to start the movement at all. Years of mental preparation, contemplation and study of India’s history is needed. The Organizing activist must go through rigorous exercise in self- awareness and self-control before launching this movement. Almost all O.As are totally unprepared for what follows.

      You said: Work for a better society we must, but accept that all injustice or corruption cannot be eliminated.

      My response: Not once did I mention in my articles that injustice and corruption should be eliminated. Such unrealistic expectations are characteristic of people who have no idea of realities of human behavior.

      You said: One thing I am sure is that when a situation becomes beyond repair a revolution is a must and that is what is going on now.

      My response: The situation has gone beyond repair only because of passivity and fear of people. It reflects poorly on Indians. What is going on now is not a revolution. It is a mob. Indians are not capable of a revolution. They are cowardly and corrupt by nature. And you can buy off anyone.

      You said: In order to sustain such a revolution INDIVIDUALS with courage and commitment is the basic need. We will have to generate this slowly and steadily.

      My response: You are merely repeating what I said many times in my articles.

      You said: No legislation will change the mind set of a human but a VALUE BASED SYSTEM only can do this change.

      My response: You are merely repeating what I said many time in my articles

  • Sir, I appreciate this article because this makes sense to me.
    But I have few issues.
    I am not a person with black money furnishing my wardrobe 🙂
    Still I prefer brokers for few reasons.

    1) If I don’t take the help of a broker, my work which has to happen within a days span will take 2 days and at times even 3 days.
    So I will have to apply leave for three days.
    So I will be loosing two extra days of CL.
    Especially for a person, who is still in probationary, how can he/she afford 3 days of leave?

    2) If I stand in the Que and one decides to finish off the work in Govt. offices, you know what happens?
    Have you ever got your Govt. job on your own?
    I/You’ll be bullied by those Brokers.
    This is a personal experience I faced a few years back when I wanted LL and DL.\
    Who wants to get bullied?
    Better spend 500 more rupees and go with the broker.

    3) Value based-systems! Oh my God! This is a deadly topic.
    Values have to be instilled by parents at home. More by a teacher in schools and colleges.
    If you know the value and status of teachers and lecturers in schools and colleges, you will never raise this topic 🙂
    The salary one receives in schools and colleges drives teachers and lecturers to just teach whatever the syllabus and go back home.
    The same students who were taught by the the teacher and lecturer in schools and colleges receive not less than 50% more of the teacher’s salary.
    So today teaching is last resort.
    House-wives are inducted at primary and kinder-garden levels.
    B.ed pass outs teach at high school levels
    and master degree holders come and teach at college levels.

    Whereas B.com BBM B.E. etc holders receive fat salaries and go work for multi-national companies.

    I know the plight of teachers:

    Apart from teaching, correcting class work, homework, setting question papers, correct answer scripts etc will make it a long day every day and no one has time to instill good thoughts and all apart from syllabus.

    If you neglect the aforesaid thought of teacher’s role in constructing and building value systems, this becomes a moot point.

    If you felt My above discussion of bringing education into discussion irrelevant, then I would simply explicitly and emphatically say that there is an intrinsic relationship between all these things with the development of the nation.
    Because Values come from learning.
    Learning comes from Exposure.
    Exposure comes from Seeing.
    See good people!
    Thank you.

    • Especially for a person, who is still in probationary, how can he/she afford 3 days of leave?

      It’s completely understandable if you can’t make such efforts. However this article is for people who can or who want to and don’t know how to.

      Have you ever got your Govt. job on your own?
      I/You’ll be bullied by those Brokers.

      Before you comment, it would be good to not make unwarranted assumptions. Better to ask for confirmation if you are not sure. Did you know that Dr. Kamath was at the forefront of consumer rights movements a couple of decades ago? And that he has chronicled his experiences in getting the job done in government offices the honest way in his past articles here?

      3) Value based-systems! Oh my God! This is a deadly topic.
      Values have to be instilled by parents at home. More by a teacher in schools and colleges.

      Your argument is basically a non-sequitur. You went from “Teachers don’t get paid enough” to “Hence teachers can’t instill values” when it isn’t necessary that teachers who do get paid enough should instill values. It also isn’t necessary that teachers who do instill values instill the right values. For example encouraging kids to believe in religious nonsense is not instilling good values.

      If you felt My above discussion of bringing education into discussion irrelevant, then I would simply explicitly and emphatically say that there is an intrinsic relationship between all these things with the development of the nation.
      Because Values come from learning.
      Learning comes from Exposure.
      Exposure comes from Seeing.
      See good people!

      Yes, your points are basically irrelevant and are moot. Its because you haven’t told anything new that Dr. Kamath hasn’t already said in his previous articles.

      You also make unwarranted assumptions that people here don’t see good. Talk about being presumptuous and arrogant! Maybe for you good means shutting off critical faculties and mindlessly following frauds like Sai Baba, but our definition of good is different.

    • Hi Swaroop,

      Paraphrasing your # 1 above, you prefer brokers because they save you time.

      Here is my response: The question is why should anything take 3 days at the government office? This is the age of computers. Anything could be done in minutes. Don’t you see that the delay tactic is meant to extort bribe from you? Here in the U.S., when I go to renew my license or register my car, it takes just two minutes. If ten people stand ahead of me in the queue, my turn comes in less than 15 minutes.

      Paraphrasing your #2, you are bullied by the brokers and so you would rather pay Rs. 500 to the broker.

      My response: Whether you want to live your life with dignity or with humiliation is your choice. What you are saying is that you feel helpless and fearful in dealing with government offices and their brokers. Instead of exercising your rights and responsibilities as a citizen of India, you have decided to patronize and promote corruption. If someone like me approaches you and says, “Swaroop, let us unite and fight back. Will you contribute Rs. 25 to the organization to fight this evil system?” I bet you will say, “Show me the front door?” and split. This is what I have personally witnessed with hundreds of people like you that I have dealt with in India. Corruption at the government offices is caused by cowardice of people.

      Paraphrasing your #3, teachers are paid poorly in India and so their quality and values are also poor.

      My response: I know that you are right on this topic. What you say is the in addition to learning values from parents, students should learn values from teachers also. To most teachers it is just a job, which pays their bills. Their heart is not in it. They chose to become teachers knowing full well that their students might earn a lot more than themselves. India is a free country. Teachers could quit their jobs and look for better paying jobs. If their salaries are low, they should unite, form a union and fight for better pay. I

      You said: If you felt My above discussion of bringing education into discussion irrelevant, then I would simply explicitly and emphatically say that there is an intrinsic relationship between all these things with the development of the nation. Because Values come from learning. Learning comes from Exposure.
      Exposure comes from Seeing. See good people!

      My response: You are right. Teachers play a very important part in developing student’s value system. I can say explicitly and emphatically that you did not have teachers who taught you that corrupt bureaucrats are traitors to the nation and patronizing and promoting corruption is aiding and abetting them. I think you did not see good people, were not exposed to good teachers and so you did not learn this fundamental value. My parents and teachers taught me in no uncertain terms what is right and what is wrong, and to fight evil fearlessly wherever I see it. Period.

  • Hello, Dr. Kamath and everyone,

    I am so excited to here from people like all of you.
    please! take me in account with anything I could contribute to aware others about injustice issues. Thanks to this article I have a more positive approach toward the officials handle my court case. I am just a citizen, seriously concern about injustice anywhere. I am deeply hurt down into my flesh about the bureaucratic situation in India. The same is happening around the world. cha, chao

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