Yes, I have used the title before. This time it’s the well-known sociologist Ashis Nandy. And it’s not misconduct, just an extraordinarily stupid statement.
Nandy was quoted as saying (at the Jaipur Literary Festival) that people from backward castes are responsible for most of the corruption in the country. It is such a patently ridiculous thing to say that, sure enough, a clarification came almost immediately.
But someone should tell these eminences: when you open your mouth after one foot is already in it, don’t insert the other too.
I endorsed the statement of Tarun Tejpal, Editor of Tehelka, that corruption in India is an equalising force. I do believe that a zero corruption society in India will be a despotic society.
I also said that if people like me or Richard Sorabjee want to be corrupt, I shall possibly send his son to Harvard giving him a fellowship and he can send my daughter to Oxford. No one will think it to be corruption. Indeed, it will look like supporting talent.
Point taken. This sort of mutual back-scratching certainly exists. [Edit: But it is absolutely not true, as Nandy implies, that the privileged people only indulge in this sort of “clever” corruption. Any number of upper-caste bureaucrats not only take bribes in the usual way, but have been caught at it, too.] But Nandy continues:
But when Dalits, tribals and the OBCs are corrupt, it looks very corrupt indeed.
However, this second corruption equalizes. It gives them access top their entitlements. And so, as long as this equation persists, I have hope for the Republic.
Is Nandy seriously equating the mutual backscratching of himself and a London don to an auto driver being forced to pay hafta to the police, or a petty trader having to bribe the police and government officials, or a poor person being forced to pay a bribe to get a ration card? And how on earth do those things “equallise” the corruption of the rich? (Incidentally, does anyone else feel that Nandy should have left his daughter and Richard Sorabji out of this?)
Yes, many of the police and the lower-level bureaucracy do come from lower castes and deprived sections of the society. And many of them manage to enrich themselves thanks to their positions. But most of the country, including most of the backward castes, are not government employees! Nandy is surely aware that over 90% of the money spend on government subsidies goes into the pockets of middlemen and very little goes to the intended recipients. How is this an “equallising” force?
In my experience, actually, there is very little corruption faced by the middle class. There is huge money to be made from the rich (who are willing to pay, and thereby escape consequences for violating the law), and from the poor (who often don’t know their rights and usually lack the means to pursue the matter, and therefore end up being a constant revenue stream). There is therefore perhaps no incentive any more to demand bribes from the middle class for routine matters, like telephone connections and driving licences, that used to be impossible to get without bribes a generation ago.
Nandy goes on:
I hope this will be the end of the matter.
There are reports of police complaints being filed against Nandy, which are to be condemned. Stupidity, insensitivity, even bigotry are not crimes. But if he wants to be taken seriously ever again, he needs to explain why, in his opinion, the debilitating corruption in the country that disproportionately hurts the poor in any way “equallises” the privileges enjoyed by the elite. His “clarification” isn’t one.
If he doesn’t explain what he means a bit better than this, he will have proved only one point here: he does not deserve his privileged position in India’s intelligentsia.