Image by sajinka2 from Pixabay 

Ancient India, a land that the rest of the world looked up to. Modern India, a proverbial future superpower in the making. As an Indian reading, these statements would make our hearts swell with pride. Well, that’s how exactly how I used to feel even though there were statements from economists who said India’s development will be a stagnated one and not achieve its lost glory. The stagnation or stunted growth was not due to progressive reforms but it was more of a cultural defect. Indians, each one of us is driven by self Interest rather than rather than an altruistic nature towards civic duties to the community which they exist and to the nation. A few incidents recently drew me to arrive at a conclusion that Indians are Hobbesian by nature.

I live in a very flourishing city in the state of Tamil Nādu. In this state, liquor is supplied through TASMAC (Tamil Nādu State Marketing Corporation). They have two outlets, one for the common man (The other is called ELITE) which sells IMFL (Indian-made foreign liquor) in all quantities i.e., 175 ml to 750ml. The Elite is for the ones who can afford to buy premium brands and foreign liquor of 750ml or higher. Now you can walk into any of these shops and buy any quantity you will have to pay more than the MRP (RS.5/- for 175- Rs.20 for 750/-). You now must be wondering how this is, as it’s a govt run enterprise. In all the other states that have Govt operated outlets like the beverages corporations in Kerala, they give you a proper bill at the MRP rate. Now if you ask the salesman for a bill at the Janata outlet, he will not sell you and may even threaten you. At the Elite outlet, they are smart as most of the well-heeled citizen uses plastic to pay and 20 rupees per bottle is nothing for the elite. So, I was in an elite outlet the other day and the salesman asked me 2 rupees more. I showed him the MRP printed on the box and asked him why I need to pay. He looked at me as if I owed him and with utter disdain and said that’s it's customary. I asked him for a bill and he told me there was no bill. I said if I have to pay Rs.20 extra then he has to give me a bill. He said he can give me a bill for the MRP and Then I told him I will pay only MRP. I asked him if he was not ashamed to extort money from customers. The next thing I know was he was mocking me in front of all the other customers, he shouted pointing me to all present there “you want to see Gandhiji’s great-grandson, take a look.” There was a roar of laughter, and all looking at me as if I was a parasite, they wanted to wipe clean with a sanitizer. I calmly but sternly replied loud “Yes I am a descendant of the father of the nation and am proud to live by his ideals, in fact dear brothers you all are his great-grandsons too and you should be ashamed to be associating with something like this.” A momentary silence fell and just when I thought I created a positive change, the whole lot started to preach me back. One told me to go with the flow, another offered to pay the 20 rupees for me yet another told me to get out of the way. I was not to be bullied I said I will call the cops, The salesman then took the MRP cost and then said that the total collection of this loot was shared by not just the employees, it went all the way right up to the top, I am sure you all get my drift when I say “right to the top”. Now my question is are you willing to pay more than the MRP? Hold on to that thought if you are itching to shout “that’s the system, You Doofus!”. I have one more “follow the system’’ incident to tell you.

My son turned 18 and he wanted to apply for his driving license. So, we approached a known driving institute and asked them to apply for my sons’ LLR (learners license). As per the procedure we filled the required form, paid the govt’s fee and the paper was inspected by the RTO inspector then we were asked to go to the office to get the LLR copy. On approaching the office, they asked us to pay Rs.100/- for flag. We were wondering what Flag? But as usual, the docile, domesticated middle class Indian silently complied. They handed over the learner’s license and my son innocently asked the official for the flag. I was waiting outside with the driving school person and we hear a commotion. I see that the official is shouting at my son. So, I intervene and asked what the problem was. The official said the boy was asking for the flag. Though I understood I was not going to let some corrupt govt official shout at my kid. I asked the official What was wrong in what he asked? He again raised his voice saying don’t you know how things work at the RTO. I said my son doesn’t know, kindly educate him on how a common man’s money is looted in the name of flag or if there is a flag worth Rs100/-please give it to him. By now a sizeable crowd gathered there and I had my camera on my phones witched on. The driving school guy the started to pacify the RTO official saying he would take care of things and started to beg me to calm down and was almost pleading saying he will compensate the 100 rupees. Long story short, the point is not about the money but how govt organizations have conditioned the average citizen to pay bribe, and how every citizen here has come to accept it.

That’s the hard truth bribery is a way of life. Every individual in this land works only to his self-interest. This is so deep-rooted now that you cannot survive in this system without it. Today, choice government posting can be had if you grease the one’s in power. These officials then bleed the general public to make more than what they lost. From buying a black ticket at the movies, registering a land by declaring a false value, paying for non-existent flags, shelling out more than the MRP to greasing the traffic cops hand the average Indian has been conditioned from the day he is born to pay bribes. There is no escape from this vicious swirl. Yet we have a Law in the land that Giving or taking bribery is illegal. They say if a particular practice is followed without being questioned for many years, then it becomes a custom. Over a period of time custom becomes Law. If so then Bribery should be legalized isn’t it. Maybe the salaried should even have a monthly bribe allowance as a salary component.

But no! its is a criminal act under section 171 E of the Indian penal code (1860). 1860 sounds impressive, right! The law has been around for 162 years and you would think that it would have cleaned up the system by now. If it, had we would be constructing prisons to put all the 1.32 billion behind bars. When the machinery of the legislative, bureaucracy and the judiciary is well oiled with the grease called bribe, The common man has no choice but to comply.

This will never change because we are Hobbesian by nature. This I, Me, Myself attitude is what makes us all insensitive. We break the road rules without even thinking twice, we spit, we litter with a “it’s not my home its public space,” attitude. We have to pay the management quota fees; we pay to get an SC community certificate for all the government quota requirements and then practice untouchability. We are so self-obsessed that to work for the common cause is an unknown concept for the Indians in the land of the mahatma.

So, coming back to my experiences, I should say from everything happened, I understand I may win a few battles at the liquor outlet maybe but surely not the war. I have learnt the value of the most cliched idiom “When in Rome, do as the Romans do!” 

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