To call Anna Hazare’s crusade against corruption a ‘second freedom movement’ may be hyperbole but in recent times there has been no mass upsurge for a purely public cause that has captured the imagination of so many.
For the Indian public, long tolerant of the misdeeds of its political servants turned quasi-mafia bosses, this show of strength was a much-needed one. In any democracy while the legislature, the executive and the judiciary are supposed to balance each other’s powers, ultimately it is the people who are the real masters and it is time the so-called ‘rulers’ understand this clearly.
Politicians, who constantly hide behind their stolen or manipulated electoral victories, should beware the wrath of a vocal citizenry that is not going to be fooled forever and demands transparent, accountable and participatory governance. The legitimacy conferred upon elected politicians is valid only as long as they play by the rules of the Indian Constitution, the laws of the land and established democratic norms.
If these rules are violated the legitimacy of being ‘elected’ should be taken away just as a bad driver loses his driving license or a football player is shown the red card for repeated fouls. The Anna Hazare agitation for implementation of the Jan Lokpal Bill is perhaps the first step towards putting an end to the impunity of our politicians and together with them of bureaucrats, judges and policemen too.
If there is any obstacle now to taking the movement beyond the adoption of the Jan Lokpal Bill, it lies only in the lack of clarity on what the term ‘corruption’ really means in the Indian context. The sources of this multi-headed evil run deep in our society and must be identified, debated and finally uprooted in all its forms.
Mention corruption and the image it conjures up is of a policeman or government official taking a bribe, a politician acting as a middleman for a corporation and so on.
However going beyond the obvious meaning of corruption as just financial fraud or bribery there is a need to look at the many other ways in which established rules and universal principles are constantly bent to suit one vested interest or the other.
Let me present what I think are the Ten Avatars of Indian Corruption:
(1) Caste: This is the oldest form of corruption in the Indian sub-continent and one that continues to this day — the bending of rules in favour of the ‘upper’ castes over the ‘lower’ ones. In traditional India, laws were always discriminatory in content, prescribing as they did different kinds of punishment to people from different rungs of the caste ladder for the same crime. Even today in many parts of India a savarna can go scot-free after murdering a Dalit while the latter can be lynched for even skinning a dead cow. People of the same caste favour each other over members of other castes all the time in different sectors of Indian life from government and business to sports and even crime. Even in Bollywood, the hero of every movie is a Singh, Sharma or a Verma and almost never an Ahir, Topno, Pramanik or Sutar. For that matter, there are very few in the English and Hindi language media too with such surnames. Next round Anna can maybe target this form of corruption and kick some ass (in his inimitable Gandhian way, of course) to set things right.
(2) Class: Money power has become the biggest bender of established rules in India as the wealthy get away with almost anything and everything from evading taxes and stealing common resources to changing national policies to suit their business interests. Across political parties today, members of parliament have become puppets of different big Indian and even foreign corporations and act against the interests of the ordinary Indian people. Even more than the politicians, who are mostly middlemen, it is the Tatas, Ambanis, Ruias and Mittals who wield real power in India. That many of these corporate bosses have joined the chorus of voices against corruption is as dubious and laughable as Pappu Yadav going on fast in solidarity with Anna’s movement.
(3) Race: Racism and discrimination on skin colour and looks is deeply rooted in a lot of Indian society and is a constant source of discrimination in not just public behaviour but also national policy and politics. What else, if not racism, could be the reason that much of India and the national media has not paid any attention to the heroic ten year long fast unto death of Irom Sharmila from Manipur for repealing the dreaded Armed Forces Special Powers Act while a four day long fast by Anna Hazare has the urban middle classes all emotionally charged up? And why else should every depiction of Mother India be of a fair skinned Aryan looking lady with pink lips and not one with dark skin or curly hair or north-eastern looks? Racism is surely one of the most abhorrent forms of corruption possible in any society and Anna can help change social attitudes next time by having a nice Santhal, Munda or Oraon woman play Bharat Mata in the portrait behind him while he fasts on stage.
(4) Gender: The ratio of women to men in the Indian population has been steadily falling in many parts of the country as a silent genocide takes place every hour with parents wilfully killing off their girl children. According to the UNICEF, foetal sex determination and sex selective abortion by unethical medical professionals has today grown into a Rs. 1,000 crore industry. Women get routinely discriminated against in job selection, the wages they get and the public and domestic violence they are subjected to. Denying women their equal rights as Indian citizens is a form of corruption that not only violates the Indian Constitution but also basic human principles.
(5) Family: Nepotism is a favourite form of corruption in the Indian context with not just politicians but film stars and cricketers promoting their kids over other more competent candidates all the time. Power, wealth, beauty, talent almost everything it seems can be ‘inherited’ without any effort and leads to the accumulation of undue influence in the same few families. The most glaring form of nepotism is practiced by family run business houses of India where, irrespective of their competence or ability, the reins of control keep passing on from father to son or daughter. If Indians want the country to be run solely on merit and transparent rules then they should insist that the CEOs of Indian companies be selected on the basis of an all India examination where everyone can participate.
(6) Location: Here I am referring to the discrimination against rural Bharat by urban India of course. The city is always prioritised over the countryside and Anna as a champion of the Gandhian concept of a village-based economy should certainly take up this issue. Whether it be in terms of remuneration for their work and produce, investment in infrastructure, job opportunities, healthcare or education the rural Indian is far worse off than the urban one. Every national policy and rule is bent in favour of the cities and this must end if India is to remain a united country for long.
(7) Language: Forget about the imposition of Hindi on the people of southern India, it turns out that the most oppressive use of the ‘national language’ is in fact in the so-called Hindi speaking states. Over a dozen languages like Bhojpuri, Awadhi, Maithili, Rajasthani, Bundelkhandi, Sadri, Chhattisgarhi are given short shrift by the champions of the elite Sanskritised Hindi over the local languages of the northern Indian states. The lack of educational materials in their mother tongue has resulted in low literacy rates for both children and adults in these parts of India for decades, keeping them at a perpetual disadvantage. In states where the local languages are properly supported and promoted like in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, West Bengal and Gujarat there is much greater literacy and also empowerment of the people. Favouring Hindi or any language for that matter over another is a violation of the principle of equal access to opportunities and a form of corruption that has not been properly addressed as yet in the country.
(8) Culture: In a land of over 1.2 billion people and diverse communities, ethnic and linguistic groups, what exactly constitutes ‘national culture’? In not just government propaganda, but also Indian cinema and art it is so called ‘classical’ music, dance sculpture and paintings that are doled out as ‘true Indian culture’ for the world to consume. Government institutions like Doordarshan and All India Radio in particular together with Bollywood have promoted a very narrow aristocratic idea of Indian culture ever since Independence. Only a few dominant forms derived from either temple or royal court contexts get promoted, while the rest derived from the farm, the coast, forests and even from amidst the urban poor are buried unheard. The privileging of certain cultures and devaluation of others is also a form of corruption that has to end.
(9) Religion: The biggest religious discrimination in India is not really against Muslims, who are at least organized and vocal about their problems, but against the Adivasi populations of the country. Subsumed under the category ‘Hindu’ there is no recognition as yet of their spiritual and religious traditions that are distinct from Hinduism in many, many ways. Several Adivasi groups in recent years have been demanding that the Indian government categorise their faiths as a separate religion called ‘Adi-dharm’ or ‘Sarna’, a call that has repeatedly fallen on deaf ears. Forcing indigenous people, who form over 10 percent of the Indian population, into a religious identity not of their choice is to deny them their Constitutional right to freedom of religion. Instead of imposing Hindu gods on them and seeking to ‘convert’ them to Hinduism with trishuls and Shiva lingams they should be allowed to practice whatever religion they want, derived from their own historical roots.
(10) Nationality: India, for all its ancient glory and history, is really a new nation forged together by first the Mughals and then the British empire. The latter in particular forced dozens of smaller nationalities to become part of the ‘Raj’, whose territory was inherited by the current Indian Republic. Gandhi, more than anyone else in the Indian freedom movement was sensitive to this and had in fact declared his support for the demand for independence of the Naga people. Other Indian leaders like Nehru and Patel looked upon themselves as the managers of colonial property that the British had handed over to them. The reduction of the entire idea of Indian nationalism to control over territory and domination over smaller nationalities has been the biggest blot on the record of modern India in the last six decades. It has led to countless killings of innocent people and even crimes against humanity in the name of protecting the ‘integrity’ of the nation and is a corruption of every principle of non-violence and humanism that Gandhi espoused.
Anna Hazare could perhaps take on the Indian administration to recognize the rights to autonomy or even self-determination of all nationalities within Indian borders that don’t feel or want to be Indian. Doing that will truly make Anna a true inheritor of the Gandhian tradition, which is after all about the fight for justice for every human being and much more than merely sitting on a fast for a public cause or wearing khadi or leading a simple life.
When that happens, the sub-continent will surely say ‘We are all Anna Hazare’ to the last man, woman and child.
Satya Sivaraman is a freelance journalist based in New Delhi