Why Blame the Petty Corrupt?
There is this organisation Transparency International and here we are a nation born out of humongous sacrifices. We have developed a strange relationship, especially, of late. They do many kinds of enquiries and measurement and invariably find us as one of the most corrupt nations of the world. This year on there was no exception. What is more, they have now finger pointed at various agencies and departments and ranked them in order of the most and least corrupt. This has, as expected, created a lot of commotion. A lot of people, ordinary and extra-ordinary, have dwelt upon the subject in vivid details. I would, in my discourse, venture to veer off the beaten track. We all know that we are corrupt. Almost all of us, adults, have direct experiences of being subjected to corrupt practices at least once in our life time and, more often than not, oftener. So there is no debate about that. What bothers me though is that we often indulge in the exercise of generalisation which can subjectively be termed as over simplification. On the pages of the newspapers we see picture of a traffic policeman collecting toll from the driver of a vehicle. This can happen even if all your papers required for you to be on the road are in order. You may even see a picture of a petty clerk in an office receiving bribe from a client. These are surely despicable practices and, needless to say, must be abhorred.
But there are many places where our eyes cannot reach, let alone the lens of the camera. These are the people whose activities cannot be seen. These are covert; behind the back activities ostensibly indulged in the darkness of night. Though, some how, even the people in the streets know about them all, talk about them, and helplessly try to joke about them. When I compare the small time larceny with the misdeeds of the big and powerful I often feel that our effort at establishing a corruption free country seems misdirected. However, I am told that the small units of bribes are shared even by those that belong to the highest echelon of power. The point is that we have to take a look at the changing mind set of the 'ordinary corrupt' in the light of reality. These people, more often than not, come from the villages of Bangladesh in search of a livelihood. They live in a dingy accommodation, and start their lives off on bare minimum amenities. They often have their families comprising wife and children. The families would either be living back in the villages or with the incumbents in the rat holes of the slums. Back in the village they had to do a lot of back breaking work which is why they travelled all the way down to the capital city where, they were told that luck favours every one equally. They were also told that there was no harm in bypassing the law of the land or that of morality in the cities as long as they brought affluence. They also found, soon enough on arrival, that luck was a far cry and could not be depended on. Some of them, through whatever means, landed some job that brought them luck. More often this was made possible by the political expediency of the big political wigs from back home. They put in the right word at the right time to the right person and the job was had.
It was after this that greed became all so pervasive. The culture of impunity that is rampant in our societies made them think that one could do anything and get away with it. Pray why not? The leaders that they revered and looked up to, in reality, were not quite the same as they always feigned to be back home.
The affluence of these high and mighty people is beyond comprehension of their friends and relatives from the village. This sets it off in them a kind of deviant hunger to acquire more of buyable worldly possessions, both tangible and intangible, as quickly as possible and at whatever the cost. I was once surprised to have learnt that a senior clerk in a judicial office takes bribe for buying Benson and Hedges cigarettes. I was a smoker in my younger days and as a junior executive in a commercial firm I could not afford to go beyond very low priced cigarettes. Not all are as blatant as the clerk that I have just talked about. Some of them take recourse to bribe to be able to eat better or educate their children. Quite frankly, ours is an absurd city. I can't really figure out how a family can live in a room or a thatch for a rent of thousand or fifteen hundred takas a month when his known monthly income is five thousand takas. So, for whatever the reason, petty corruption is the order of the day. Push yourself a little higher in terms of income and the picture grows even more absurd. Even Samuel Becket, the epitome of absurdity in literature, would not be able to guess how in a city a person earning twenty five thousand takas a month actually pays thirty thousand for a rented apartment. Coming down to the subject of petty corruption, a friend of mine was telling me the other day that this kind of corruption isn't so bad because the money circulates within the country. From a giver to a taker then to the market, so on and so forth. But the big time criminals apparently keep all of it stashed away abroad. So the money generated within the country travels to distant lands. While this keeps happening the rich get richer. The poor (except the ones already endowed with the magic wand) become poorer. The immeasurable wealth that we show off around comes through corruption of a variety of kinds. And this most amazing disparity itself can instigate the poor to take a plunge in the pool of sleaze. For example, a person languishing in the darkness of his dingy room during the load shading, walks out to breathe and finds that the super market 'round the corner is dazzling with all kinds of fancy lighting, the BMWs and Mercedes' are queuing up to deposit their precious passengers eager to launch themselves off to a shopping binge. Could you blame him if he is then motivated to do something desperate. Would the 'well-off us' ever be sensitive to acknowledge how our ostentations may be viewed by the vast majority of our countrymen?
He also finds, painfully though, that his benefactors from the village who helped him land a job in the city through their political connections live in similar flamboyance while he has very little to expect from life. And, unfortunate though it may seem, this is directly connected, somehow or the other, with our country's politics and bureaucracy. I think the sooner we realise this the better. Now comes the million dollar question, who would put the front foot forward? You, me, them? Who in the end would set an example of normality as evolved through the onward journey of human civilization to combat this abnormal and absurd condition that we are travelling through? The politicians? The bureaucrats? The common people? I would say all those that are well off must reverse their attitude. Indeed they do not have a right to show an 'attitude' and pursue a path of misdemeanour when the whole nation languishes in such stark poverty.
(R) thedailystar.net 2010