Forging a link, however tenuous, between caste and corruption is akin to saying that the average Indian male has sex on his mind, caste and communalism in his heart and indigestion in his tummy. That was an irreverent response to the sweeping statement made by the “ageing enfant terrible” of Indian sociology, Ashis Nandy, during a discussion at the Jaipur Literary Festival. In reality, the country is united by corruption and no caste, community or region seems immune from the virus.
“Indian sociologists do not want to dirty their hands with field studies,” fumes Dr Meera Nanda, visiting faculty at the Indian Institute of Science, Education & Research, Mohali. She says Nandy has perfected the art of theorising on the basis of instinct, or “one example and one anecdote”, and asks why it still takes foreign scholars to expose the irrationalities in the Indian system. “Nandy is deemed to be god, and he gets away with silly statements because he is never questioned too closely,” says Nanda. “But I’d like to know what sociology departments in India are doing.”
Her concern is shared by several other academics Outlook spoke to, but most of them wanted to remain anonymous. Most found Nandy’s attempt to link caste and corruption “ridiculous”. The media, they said, was responsible for glossing over corruption, particularly cases involving the upper castes. “If people don’t recall Pratap Singh Kairon, Mohanlal Sukhadia, Pramod Mahajan or Capt Satish Sharma in debates on corruption, it shows the lack of rigour in the media and also in academicians,” says a Delhi University professor.
Similarly, no one seems to have studied at any depth the JMM bribery scam, where Jharkhand MPs were paid to keep the Congress government at the Centre afloat. While the role of then PM Narasimha Rao and other leaders who benefited from the scam has been glossed over, the naivete of Shibu Soren and other JMM MPs in putting the bribe in their bank accounts has been the butt of jokes forever.
Nandy’s clarification that he meant that more among the tribals, Dalits and the OBCs get caught for corruption has many more takers, though this statement too is not backed by any empirical evidence. But his claim that West Bengal is the least corrupt state because Dalits, tribals and OBCs have been nowhere close to power there for the last one hundred years is, however, “utter nonsense” says Dalit writer and retired IAS officer, A.K. Biswas.
Game changer Suresh Kalmadi under arrest for involvement in the CAG scams
“Nandy conveniently forgets the case of Chandan Basu, the son of Jyoti Basu, who moved from being a clerk to an industrialist during the years of Communist rule in the state,” scoffs Biswas, who believes that if the scales of corruption are lower in the state, it is more due to its poverty, relative lack of resources and investment opportunities.
Were they corrupt because of their caste? Not so, says retired Supreme Court judge and former Karnataka Lokayukta Santosh Hegde. “I disagree with what Nandy has said and would not equate corruption with caste,” he says. With the fierce competition to become rich overnight greater now than ever before, he believes, it is greed which acts as the trigger. A diametrically opposite view comes from former bureaucrat Amitabha Pande who says he is “somewhat in agreement” with Nandy because “different castes and kinds of people and their backgrounds would have different corruption behaviours (sic). It defines their aspiration.”
Corruption is actually casteless. Nobody after all pays or accepts a bribe because of his or her caste. There are different categories of bribes though, chips in a Naxalite leader, recalling how he was taken aback by a government employee, a sympathiser, claiming that he only accepted “first class bribes”—the kind that are not solicited but get paid in the matter of course. “Second class bribes” are those paid for clearing bills and so on. Caste, of course, does not play a role.
Neither the Central Vigilance Commission nor the Central Bureau of Investigation, or for that matter the National Crime Records Bureau compile caste-based data of the accused or the convicted. But there is little doubt, says a CBI joint director, that the corrupt among the higher castes enjoy a far more protective umbrella. “Chances of Pramod Mahajan getting caught for corruption, for example, would have been slim because he would have the smartest chartered accountants and lawyers working for him,” he told Outlook.
Stamped in Abdul Karim Telgi, accused in the stamp paper scam, in a file photo. (Photograph by AFP, From Outlook 11 February 2013)
While the politically empowered and the more numerous Dalits, tribals and OBCs are increasingly occupying posts in the government, their percentage in the private sector is deemed to be negligible in comparison. Despite the meteoric growth of the private sector, P.S. Bawa, the chairman of Transparency International India, rues that not a single top private sector company came forward to sign an integrity pledge saying that they will not take bribes or use unfair means. “People who do not have power or position cannot exploit it. So it is really a combination of power, position and intent,” he says.
Corruption in fact has enjoyed a certain degree of respectability in this country at all times. Even Chanakya (280 BC) advised people against being too honest. In the forest, he said, straight trees were felled first while the crooked were left alone. In large parts of the country, the honest continue to be ridiculed for being weak and stupid while the corrupt are seen as being smarter, more intelligent and more audacious. But such social trends, laments Biswas, have just not been studied and explained.
An apocryphal tale strengthens that stereotype. When people in Bihar stormed the streets in 1967 shouting slogans against the corrupt chief minister: “Gali-gali me shor hai/ K.B. Sahay chor hai.” The slogan was even picked up by children in the CM’s own household. And they repeated it with equal zest with the protesters at the CM’s official residence. Perhaps there is a lesson in this for all of us.
By Uttam Sengupta with Outlook Bureau
Power, and not caste, decides an individual’s corruption potential (Varna of Money, Feb 11). Dalit leaders should fight to protect their rights but I wish they were magnanimous enough to allow for the freedom of thought of someone like Nandy. Why not counter a wrong view by making the right arguments based on reason rather than action under a draconian law?
Narendra M. Apte, Pune
The comparison with Akhand Pratap Singh and Neera Yadav does not serve the story. Neera is a Brahmin who married a Yadav and reaped a rich harvest.
Sanket Biswas, Calcutta
The one instance of Chandan Basu shows the double standards among Bengalis.
Surya Sharma, Calcutta
The Suresh Kalmadi picture was captioned “arrested for the CAG scam”. CWG, I presume, unless the man’s been messing with our national auditors too.
Ashfaq, on e-mail
Indian sociology is identity-driven and ends up strengthening the very same identity politics which needs to be checked in India.
Bahu Virupaksha, Pondicherry
It will be interesting if the caste-corruption study was conducted taking into account political affiliations and ideological perspectives.
Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read the article and share their thoughts. Out of the arguments made here, there are two that perhaps need answering. So here they go.
1. The first part of the article compares outcomes (relative percentages of population of the religions concerned) irrespective of the process that led to those outcomes - whether immigration, relatively faster population growth or conversions. This was for two reasons. One, to put the figure of 2.3 per cent in "numerical perspective", as the article itself explained. The second reason was that outcomes are ultimately what the crux of debate is about. The rest of the article in any case dealt with process - or conversions in this case, from both a contemporary and historical perspective.
2. Some commenters have tried to cast doubts on the reliability of Census 2001. Those who do this should bear in mind that Census 2001 was conducted by a BJP government. Considering the extreme importance that BJP gives to this issue, it would be reasonable to expect that IF it had perceived a problem with the methodology that was distorting the numbers, it would have fixed it. As the article mentioned, BJP or BJP-supported governments have been in power for 10 of the last 40 years, or about a quarter of the time, and the only reasonable conclusion one can arrive at is that any misreporting of numbers, real or perceived, would be marginal and hence, not of importance.
To all other arguments made, my answer is the following: Please read the article again, with particular focus on the quotations of Vivekananda and Monier Williams, and the history of the missionary efforts in Bengal and their outcome.
'Power corrupts and ultimate power corrupts
ultimately. Wheather its Raja or Sukram the
verna of money tempts. But If one believes in
Dharma that's Values the temptation recedes.
Why did 'outlook' printed Raja's photo in this
story so prominently? Still one is proved, he is
innocent. That's Basic ethics.
Its simple ... in India it costs a lot of money to run a political party and fight the elections running into thousands of crores. Money doesn't grow on trees. Those big shots who "donate" money to political outfits dont give free lunches. They want it back with interest. That comes in terms of subsidised govt contracts and tenders. Those subsidy costs end up in the pockets of Netas and Babus - the core of the corruption in India.
Dalit, Brahman, SC, ST, Khatri, Bania, Thakur, Rajout, Jat, you name it, they are all in it to make money when they win the elections and come in power. Those who were once down trodden have a special grudge. Their leaders who promised them heaven get away with millions because after they have cast their their vote they are left nothing but with a false pride of looking at sand stone statues and elephants ...
“Nandy conveniently forgets the case of Chandan Basu, the son of Jyoti Basu, who moved from being a clerk to an industrialist during the years of Communist rule in the state,”
- Regarding double-standars in Bongs, ki aar bolbo!
Nandi's statistics can also mean corruption by higher castes are overlooked and corruption by lower castes are targetted.
Ahem... Caste=Jati or in a vague way, Gotra.
caste not =Varna.
There are many 'castes' that in the past claimed certain varnas, then on another occasion a different one.
Hence, we find the existence of the same last names and claims of the same mythological descent/lineage between people who are thought of as belonging to different varnas.
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