Can a law obliterate corruption?

By Asha Iyer Kumar

India is now divided into two sets of people. Those who vociferously support Anna Hazare and those who staunchly believe that corruption is at it its hilt and needs stemming, but don’t see the introduction of a bill or its conversion to a law as the panacea. It is easy to distinguish the two sets of people—one, the common middle class Indian currently galvanised by Anna’s overtures and the other, the country’s intelligentsia that is not merely circumspect, but is openly pessimistic about the outcome of the recent waves of feverish public outcry.

While the former is a direct manifestation of years of regular humiliation and persecution at the hands of greedy governmental institutions and its cellular agencies, the latter’s pessimism stems from the knowledge that mere law has not and cannot bring colossal changes in a system that now does not know any other way to exist.

The ‘C’ word in India has now become a truth that the ordinary citizen has accepted with resignation, just as a victim of domestic violence accepts her fate stoically. However, one thing that neither the warring common man nor the high-browed sceptic can deny is the fact that the Lok pal bill and the icon it created in Anna Hazare has moved the nation into oneness. And that in some ways is a positive development.

But will this tsunamical surge of oneness alone be sufficient to exorcise the obese monster that we have fed and fostered through complacency and common practice? The movement, undoubtedly, has given the populace an opportunity to openly vent its ire and frustration, but how far will the theatrics of fasting and mass movements will achieve the original objective of wiping out corruption in Indian civil society is only anybody’s guess.

Pardon me if I sound hopeless and discouraging, but given that evil, envy and debauchery are endemic to human nature, the real solution to problems such as these lie primarily in human nature itself. I am not dishing out fancy rhetoric on how the corruption essentially lies in the human heart. It is easy or even fashionable to declare so and snuggle back into the old routine of debased existence. But when greed, stoked by limitless desire, gets the better of us, especially in a world order where there are no clear cut rights and wrongs, where survival is becoming a challenge with each day, where morality is only for the priests to preach, is there anything optimistic for one to see?

Seeing the deep rooted sleaze in the Indian society, teens and youth taking to thievery than academics in a major world city, seeing totalitarian governments attack their own vulnerable citizens, global companies bamboozle their scrimping investors, soldiers and militia men in an impoverished, famine-wrought continent assault their women and children to instill fear, one suspects if the Machiavellian tendencies are characteristic of only a particular nation, culture or population.

In the Indian context, one fails to see how blaming and targeting the political community alone can help us restore the health of an ethically sick civil society. It is one thing to get bills passed in parliament to make laws, it is quite another to get the law established in the country’s psyche. When law itself fails to instill fear, when law itself succumbs to pressure, when law itself stands mute witness to gross and inhuman violations, when the loopholes are bigger than the noose, of what consequence will any new legal regulation be?

In a country where there is a Rights to Information Act in place, yet activists exercising the right get brutally murdered, where whistle blowers are inhumanly torched alive, where rapists and rogue elements live on interminable periods of bail and parole, is it a lack of law that one is genuinely concerned about?

If a few extra sections in the law book will fill a potentially erring human with fear of legal retribution, if it will send strong signals of unbending punitive action, if the recent waves of protests make the dishonest bigwigs who pocket millions over a deal and the ubiquitous file pushers in government offices cringe with remorse, if corruption is viewed as a core individual flaw and not an easily dismissed weakness, then Anna Hazare and his millions of supporters’ efforts will meet with a positive outcome. If it will awaken a nation’s collective consciousness and summon a moral stance among its people across divides, if it will rectify basic human frailties, then the Lok Pal movement is on track. If not, all that we are currently seeing in India will end up being a wasted exercise against an enemy who is either all pervading or is within oneself, depending on one’s personal orientation and subjective perception.

Asha Iyer Kumar is a freelance journalist based in Dubai

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