Blogging to fight corruption in India

BlogHer Original Post

Thanks to BlogHer's contributing editor Britt Bravo , I found my second hero (remember the first, Blank Noise?) who is taking on one of India's most debilitating, corroding vices, namely, corruption. And how!

J.N. Jayashree, the wife of an Indian bureaucrat in the southern state of Karnataka, fears for her husband's life, who she claims is a whistle-blower and is being harassed and threatened. So, with a little help from her son in the United States, she decided to blog about it in the hope that the public eye will shield her husband.

Quoting from the International Herald Tribune story:

As her husband made powerful enemies, Jayashree began to fear for his life. And so she devised an unusual ploy to protect him: She blogged.

In the YouTube era, she reasoned, it is harder to kill a man who has a bit of Internet renown.

“We're creating a fortress around him - a fortress of people,” she said in a telephone interview. “I wanted to inform the people that this is happening, that my husband is a whistle-blower, so that it becomes the responsibility of every citizen to protect him.”

Her website,, centers around her husband's experience, but has evolved into a platform for people to speak out against corruption in the upper echelons of Indian bureaucracy.

Outlining her strategy on her website, she says:

Attack the bureaucrats, who conspire with politicians to loot the country, so that it becomes almost impossible for any politician to make wealth by corrupt means - by cheating the public using willing corrupt bureaucrats of his choice.

Get a ruling that the requirement of every government SERVANT to work with ABSOLUTE INTEGRITY allows him to whistleblow. When a large number of honest officials are freed from the fear of harassment by the mighty corrupt, major changes necessary to achieve corruption free services becomes possible

Jayashree had reason to panic when her husband was threatened. Whistle-blowers have paid with their lives in India, as the IHT also points out. A 30-year-old government engineer was killed for exposing corruption in the national highway project he was working on. (Check out the S.K. Dubey Foundation for Fight Against Corruption in India). Two years later, a 27-year-old manager at a state-owned oil company was shot dead for exposing an adulterated gas scam.

The irony of it all is that a whistle-blower's protection bill has been doing the rounds of the Parliament for a while now. Any guesses why it hasn't become a law yet?

It is hard to exaggerate the importance of what Jayashree, and many others like her, are doing to fight this plague.

The IHT story quotes a Transparency International adviser, Arun Duggal, as saying:

For an individual to use the powerful media of the Internet to take a stand against corruption, to expose wrongdoing, to build a campaign and a following, I think it's the first time I've seen it," said Duggal, who is based in New Delhi.

Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index 2007 ranks India at 72 (among 180 countries. USA is at 20). Not that we needed an index
to state the obvious. The question is, why?

Nita Kulkarni takes a stab at it on her blog, A Wide Angle View of India. Her hypothesis: maybe richer nations are less corrupt. So she compares Transparency International data with various world economies only to find that her argument doesn't quite pan out:

Interestingly, India has improved its corruption ranking as compared to last year. Well, one factor could be rising incomes…we know that better law enforcement could not have played a part. I feel that if Singapore has so little corruption, their strict law enforcement is a big factor.

Also, the fact that the USA and Japan do not score very well in the corruption index, inspite of being rich nations, means that a lot of complex factors are at work. I am not sure I understand what.

Ayer Auroville has an off-beat take on what corruption really is. She worries that in an effort to make India a corrupt-free country, we may loose the “flexibility” of Indian society, which she says can be far more humane than rigid, law-abiding and law-enforcing nations.

Has the law and its civilising nature really helped in the end to produce a good citizen? Or it has it made all of us kids in the kindergarten who need to be monitored as we cannot be trusted to exercise our innate sense of the good and bad?

Yes, I live in a country where the monthly allocated food for the pre-school children in village crèches disappear between the files of the officers who are supposed to administer their distribution but I also live in a country where people can and do actively exercise their humanitarian nature to give or help even if they break laws to do it...

...The Indian system would be the greatest system of socio-economic management if only we would also develop within each individual the consciousness to be sincere. Unlike the developed nations we have not become totally dependent on outside agencies and bodies to monitor every part of our daily life.

I see what she is getting at, but I doubt that bending a few rules to do someone a good turn is the real problem India is grappling with. We are talking about public institutions -– everything from the bureaucracy, to the passport office, to the local water board --- that are corrupt. We have all the right institutions that a democracy demands, yet we have to bribe to get things done. We land up paying a second time for the very same services that we paid to set up with our taxes.

I have no doubt that a better economy can contribute to the slow death of corruption. But to make that happen, we need to recognize corruption as a problem. And that's not as slam dunk as it may seem.

Corruption, unfortunately, is considered a given. So, if your economic situation improves, you are now better equipped to pay your way through. Money can actually perpetuate the problem.

And it is happening. For example, my parents, who live in can't-get-enough-of-its-success Bangalore city, often lament that nothing moves any longer without deep pockets. People are rich these days, so they don't mind paying where necessary.

I believe some of this also stems from history. Our rulers (including the British) have by and large been despotic. Modern India has replaced the foreign rulers for home-grown ones, who still believe they rule rather than govern. There is a lack of ownership among the people of the resources that the government is supposed to use for the country's welfare. No one's doing us a favor. We pay taxes to get those services, so we might as well get them. It's our money, not the government's private property. Once we develop this sense of ownership, accountability will follow.

Being the optimist that I am, I think we are moving in the right direction. As younger generations move farther away from autocracy and get a clearer idea of what a democratic society must ensure its citizens, we are fighting for change.

I also take heart from the fact that both the men (we know of ) that lost their lives for exposing corruption, were young and well-educated graduates from elite Indian institutions. While I mourn their loss, it gives me hope that bright young minds –who could've lived lives of comfort in countries of their choosing – have the courage and vision to stand up for change.

One of the best things to happen to Indian democracy in my lifetime is the passage of the Right to Information Act that has seen the light of day only recently. A good number of people, including Jayashree, are using the Act as a weapon to get local bodies to deliver the goods.

Also, the more basic public services get fully automated, the fewer palms to grease. India's technology-oriented growth should takes us there. The sooner the better.

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