Pulling a Fast One

The movie 3 Idiots was so well made. It was peppered with intelligent observations about the current state of our education system and the problems therein. Perhaps elitist since it focused on the most advanced type of colleges in the country and guided as it was by Chetan Bhagat’s book, it had to focus on those seats of privileged higher learning. That fact itself makes the plot quite scary since it alludes to the huge gap and much worse state of affairs in the lower ranked schools and colleges across the length and breadth of the country. While the film did not touch much on the topic of corruption prevalent in our education system but I do remember two anecdotes from the storyline. First was the admission of Rancho (the main protagonist) into the college – that was a very corrupt act indeed since  he’d popped in masquerading as someone else. Secondly, one of the songs in the movie made this very poignant point:

Kandhon ko kitaabon ke bhoj ne jhukaya,

Rishwat dena to khud papa ne sikhaya.

99% marks laoge to ghadi, warna chadi 

(Shoulders drooping by the weight of the books, my father himself taught me how to bribe. If you get 99% marks then I’ll get you a watch, else the cane)

The idea of corruption and paying bribes is truly as deep-set in the Indian culture as this song brings out. All of us must have faced this situation – either as kids or as parents.  Does NCERT or the Education Ministry think  it opportune  enough to introduce lessons on morality, uprightness and corruption in school textbooks? As a culture we all line up to “bribe” our huge pantheon of Gods and Goddesses with hair, coconuts, donations etc. A recent innovation right under the noses of the Education Ministry is the cool practice of writing down one’s mobile number on exam answer sheets. It is a cue for the examiner, his family already reeling under the shock of price inflation, to call that number – discreetly and always via a syndicate and exchange marks for notes. The reason why this trick was unknown to me as a student is because mobile phones weren’t around then. 😉

It is truly endemic to who we are as a people, but Anna Hazare, the Gandhian is trying to change all that! And how! By staging a seemingly successful but obdurate fast until his demands are met. I personally feel that Hazare and therefore the Lokpal Bill tackles the symptoms and not the disease. The real disease is the societal acceptance and in some cases even a congratulatory commendation of the use of “power-ups”  and shortcuts in the game of life. Until that psyche is changed much little will be achieved from the point of view of eradication (or even a reduction) in corruption levels in the country. Hazare’s methods are undemocratic to me but his fasting does ensure that his Wikipedia page remains well fed! Comparisons are made with the real McCoy i.e. Mahatma Gandhi – at least with the philosophy and his outlook to life. Mahatma Gandhi was good with fasts as some of his observations regarding the act of fasting show:

  • My religion teaches me that whenever there is distress which one cannot remove, one must fast and pray.
  • Fasting is an institution as old as Adam. It has been resorted to for self-purification or for some ends, noble as well as ignoble

But he (and also the whole nation it seems) is asking for rules to be put in place to apprehend people who practice the common art of corruption. Its like a woman laying down the law and deciding the punishment if her man were to look at anything but the white spaces if crammed into a truckload of distressed damsels having no chance of escape. Corruption is everywhere around us, how can laws and rules force us to look only at the un-corrupt white spaces. Consider this heart warming story about a corrupt couple:

A husband and wife IAS couple were caught in Madhya Pradesh (MP) last year. They had made 360 crores over a period of 30 years of service. Their methodology was simple. The mid-day meal scheme provides for 1 million kids in MP. 75 paise per meal is allocated to sweets. They stole only those 75 paise from each kid. Sweet, no? Do the math: 75p X 1,000,000 = INR 7.5 lakhs per day. 2.25 crores a month. 27 crores or USD 5.4 million a year. And why did they get caught? Because even in the twilight of their illustrious careers, they refused to share their loot with their cohort of 20 subordinates! Maybe they were tight-fisted because they wanted to ensure an endless supply of sweets for their generations to come.

So how will all this fasting and forcing the hand of the legislators curb all this?

As Rand said, ‘Rules are always meant to be broken”. Here’s the excerpt – if it fits into this theme:

Did you really think we want those laws observed?” said Dr. Ferris. “We want them to be broken. You’d better get it straight that it’s not a bunch of boy scouts you’re up against… We’re after power and we mean it… There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power any government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws. Who wants a nation of law-abiding citizens? What’s there in that for anyone? But just pass the kind of laws that can neither be observed nor enforced or objectively interpreted – and you create a nation of law-breakers – and then you cash in on guilt. Now that’s the system, Mr. Reardon, that’s the game, and once you understand it, you’ll be
much easier to deal with.


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