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January 16, 2004

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Some Small Complaints!

Aly Zaker

Once Some friends and I took recourse to law for an exceedingly trivial matter. A club that we were members of had decided to throw us out for entering and using its premises wearing non-western attire. We thought this was insulting and ridiculous and sued the club in a court of law. The honourable judge, after listening to our petition, issued a stay order on the decision of the management of the club. We came back triumphant and re-entered the club gleefully. It was such an inconsequential event in my life that it does not even merit mentioning in these columns. And the reason for mentioning it is also quite different. In those days, a strike of the Lawyers was on. Therefore, we had to plead our case ourselves. Our legal advisor, a reputed solicitor had briefed us about how we should go about the job and also, very kindly, asked his junior to accompany us to the court. After the Judge gave his verdict, the gentleman deputed by our solicitor asked for some money to be paid to the clerk of the court as bakshish. We found out that this was to be paid in gratitude for our case to be raised to the Judge earlier than the time it should have normally taken. I thought it was fair to pay these small bribes to a person who is ill remunerated. He must be having a family to support, some kids to educate, a house-rent to pay and what have you. We all knew how expensive it was to live in this city.

The junior seemed to disagree. He said, " no sir; he does not need the bribe for his subsistence. He needs it for indulging in luxury. If you opened his drawer now you would find a pack of the most expensive cigarettes in it." Until then it did not occur to me that even those taking recourse to minor corruptions did so not only to meet their ends but also in luxuries that only the well off could afford. This got me thinking. It is a fact then that everybody does not indulge in corruption out of necessity. Some do it for the purpose of indulging in luxury as well.

An elderly relative of mine, a widow, was speaking about her encounter with small time corruption the other day. Recently, she was out of the country visiting her relatives for about four months. During her absence the apartment she lives in was locked. On return she found that the power distribution company had regularly sent her bills at an average of about a thousand Takas a month. Now, this was preposterous no one had been in the apartment. On inquiry, the lady was told that this was caused by a fault in the metre and that she had to replace it with a new one. A new metre was bought. The metre was of the same brand as the old one. But when asked to install it she was told that this metre wouldn't do, she had to get another one of a particular brand. Why so (?), my relative asked. "Because that is the only metre which is acceptable to us", they said. So the chain of corruption was very long indeed. Amongst others it also included the manufacturers as well. The same lady got a new connection of natural gas in her apartment. This was done at the advice of the authorities. After the connection was given, when asked to seal the old line they asked for two thousand Takas or else, they said, her gas connection would be cut off.

I have only mentioned a couple of incidents that came to my mind readily. But tell me readers, those of you who own a vehicle, have you ever been able to get your fitness certificate from the authority without dishing out a bribe, however fit your vehicle is? But how many times in a day's journey through the streets of Dhaka have you encountered vehicles that should have ended their journey in the junkyard ages ago? But I guess in a society like ours rife with corruption across the board, you do not have an alternative. So consider it a "small complaint" that you could learn to live with.



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