The corrupt and the religious

Till recently, I was just a salaried bloke without much need to interact with various government agencies. I have learnt a lot in the one and a half years I have been running my own business as an entrepreneur. Firstly, those who tell you that the Licence Raj is behind us have never run a company that needs a thousand and one licences to actually get it off the ground. And of course each department wants its share of “performance incentive” fees to get things done. So I have been exposed to the ugly and sleazy part of running a business in India – a part I thoroughly despise.
A curious thing you observe while visiting various government offices is the number of images of gods and goddesses that abound there. Yes, many of these government officials are very religious people. Every morning, Ganesh will be worshipped, fresh garlands will adorn the idol, and the nice people will pray earnestly. No business will be conducted in the Rahu Kaalam, the inauspicious part of the day (Saturn’s evil influence, see) that usually (conveniently?) falls just after lunch time. I’m serious! We didn’t get one of our licences in the afternoon, the official insisting that we wait till Rahu Kaalam had passed. We got it around 5 PM.
I am an avowed atheist as most of my readers know, so these things don’t concern me in the least. What I find baffling, however, is the fact that these same religious people have absolutely no qualm or shame in demanding and accepting dough for their “services”. How does this fit in with their religious views? If you believe in an all-powerful, all-seeing deity that dispenses justice based on your actions in this world (a view that is part of most religions), then surely wouldn’t you also believe that this deity sees your corrupt, despicable actions and will make you pay for your sins in the afterlife or the next life? Somehow, this doesn’t seem to bother any of our nice government employees in the least, who merrily conduct large transactions every day at most offices. And yet the greedy, money-grubbing government lackey will make regular visits to Tirupati, Dharmasthala, and numerous other “holy” places to seek the blessings of the almighty. They must have missed their religion’s lessons about leading a virtuous life.
What a wonderful country we have…

20 thoughts to “The corrupt and the religious”

  1. I think they have ‘compartments’ for their religious beliefs and their ‘practicality’.
    Basic problem is how we are brought up. From the early childhood, we see that our parents and others around us, doesn’t follow the law. We see how they lie, how they bribe others, how they want to circumvent law at each possible opportunity.
    This is what struck me most when I came to U S of A. People here respect the law. Law is always mentioned as ‘THE LAW’ [note the article ?the?]. Children, from the very beginning, see that law is something you must abide by and the culture propagates. If India needs to be developed country, we all need to start respecting and abide by the law. And as you mentioned in your earlier post, Indian government needs to make sure that law is not complicated and easy enough for every one to follow.

  2. I always wondered why I turned out to be an atheist despite growing up around fairly devout people. I think it was because I was repulsed by contradictions like these: the rude, selfish and sometimes plain mean relatives were the most devout; the houses where brahminical “achaaram” or practices of purity were observed were the most unclean, etc.
    Believing in an “all-powerful, all-seeing deity that dispenses justice based on your actions in this world” is very convenient if the only “actions” you have to perform are rituals.

  3. I think being corrupt is almost expected of the people who expect divinity to help their lives in every minute detail. They are just normal humans who are greedy and do not want to turn away any source that may bring them wealth/power – be it mortal or otherwise.
    Conviction of religious belief and Moral uprightness are not interlinked as you expect them to be.

  4. Being corrupt is more of a down to earth humane thing and has got nothing to do with divinity. A person folding his hands in front of the Almighty does not mean that he has to be a saint all his life. Corruption is a totally condemnable act and has got more to do with greed, which I am afraid is all pervasive, be it an athiest or a believer.

  5. A shallow understanding of practice of religion,if I may put it that way. As also a convenient application/bending of whatever little they have absorbed.

  6. Most folks who consider themselves religious, do not really know the meaning of religion and what it entails. The religion to them is a habit, imbibed into them by their parents’ habits without question or reason. They utter the prayers, they sing the bhajans, they recite the chalisa. But in reality it may as well be ‘Oops I did it again’ by Britney Spears. Hence, in most people, their conscience or even religious concious does not bite, since in their minds they are not breaking any rules of guidelines due to the lack of understanding of their religion.
    Moreover, for a country like India, ‘service charges’ are a way of life, an unwritten rule of conducting any business, any transaction. Pocket-money, Dash, Back-handers, Incentives…whatever acceptable name it may be given. Yet again, this way of life has become a habit.
    A trend, a way of life, I dont see changing soon.
    ~ RJ

  7. Let us not generalize and claim that all devouts are like that. I know of quite a number who earnestly seek to determine what their faults and weaknesses are, and eliminate them either through conscious watchfullness or mental reasoning (wisdom). Also, i feel that every person is a potential sinner, be they devout or atheist. Circumstance reveals the character. They were greedy all along, and when the opportunity came, they accepted bribes. It’s okay if you have faults in you. Just be sure to genuinely destroy them overtime.

  8. I think it is to do with what I call “values of convenience”. These are values which are tradable and come with a price tag attached. The sad part is that they are so low priced!!

  9. Being devout has got nothing to do with being good. It is about expecting God to cover your a** all the time. :)
    Come to think of it, even Phoolan Devi used to perform arti before leaving to get her kills – what do you think she was praying to God for?

  10. Religion has become a front for despicable activities. Consider the case of the head of the temple now in jail for murdering others.
    Regarding the government offices, well, they have a culture of bribery, so they feel it is their _right_ to demand bribe. It doesn’t matter whether they are religious or not.
    – Swaroop

  11. This is a free country. Theives are free to pray to any god they wish. After all they promise a cut to the lord above.

  12. Hey
    I remember my builder had put “Miscellaneous charges”. When I asked him what was that, he said, we need to pay 1% as bribe.. So the rate is also fixed.. Its just unofficially official.
    Oh.. and by the way, considering that you are an atheist, its a real irony that your ads are so totally poitning to all religious sites ;-)

  13. you might be an atheist (if you even understand what that means), or you might be deeply ‘religious’…this is not about religion or being secular or atheist…the corruption that you talk about is a culture that doesn’t promote virtue and goodness..the praying to ram and shankar is once again culture…and it should not be confused with ‘dharma’….living in harmony with nature and with respect and love for all mankind..that is what is the beauty of our great hindu not mistake corruption and prayers for ‘religion’….

  14. In decisions regarding taking/giving bribes, only a sense of order and justice, and a sense of what is “due to you” are involved, and these are rather secular in nature; as others have pointed out, religion has nothing to do with them.
    Wasn’t it a Singapore PM who once observed “if you pay peanuts, you will get only monkeys”?
    If you think you are some super-duper clerk / administrator who is under-appreciated and underpaid by your employer, and here comes someone who is willing to give you money, it is natural to get tempted, isn’t it? Isn’t this also why it is important to pay our government employees well? You might remember that the Fifth pay commission recommended (circa 1996) fairly hefty pay hike **and** some serious down-sizing. Guess what, the Government (Chidambaram, together with a couple of Cabinet colleagues) took the first recommendation (not fully, I might add), and dumped the second.
    BTW, some commenters seem to imply that corruption does not exist in the West; perhaps this sort of everyday corruption is not a serious problem there, but big-time corruption (remember crony capitalism, Enron and its auditors?) is alive and well (in the West, and elsewhere), and its effect on the common man is as insidious.

  15. Isn’t Hinduism all about corruption and bribery? Look at the Mahabharata or the Ramayan – appease this god and he will give you a brahmastra, do a puja for this goddess and she will reward you. The whole religion seems to be based on on keeping various gods happy through bribery. The Gods themselves seem to have no particular notion of good and bad and seem willing to hand out weapons and powers to the highest bidder. Is it any surprise then that devout Hindus see no conflict between their religious beliefs and bribery/corruption.

  16. Hi Madhu.
    You must have encountered more government officials than a salaried person but I am sure everyone, irrespective of their profession, would have met a lot of corrupt government officials.
    I have written a couple of times about them as well. Buy a driver’s license is how the RTO can run as a business and An eye for an eye? is how we can punish some offendors, not just the govt. officials but every offender in general.

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