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By Rev Kyrsoibor Pyrtuh
“Give me strength never to disown the poor (people) or bend my knees before insolent might” (Gitanjali)
When Nero hosted a party he illuminated his lawn by burning human slaves and prisoners but none of his guests, which included the intelligentsia, nobility, page three people, socialites etc, present at the party raised a voice of protest or confronted the Emperor. Today in our country and State millions of citizens are burnt by abject poverty, hunger, starvation, displacement and diseases for no fault of their own but by the system and lately by reforms which have already enriched a few and impoverished millions. They are the small vendors, the daily laborers, the domestic workers, the cultivators, truck drivers, bus conductors etc. They are the worst victims of corruption. Their daily struggle to make ends meet will always go unnoticed. Corruption is a war against them. Do we share their pangs? Do we understand their psyche? Do we listen to their lowly voices? Do we really speak for them? Perhaps ‘People Like Us’ are the beneficiaries of the system and reforms (neo-liberalism) that facilitates corruption.
Comrades, activists, writers, artistes and the commoners who are on the other side of the divide and who share the burden of fighting the demon of corruption are facing deaths and threat of deaths, but death would not overpower them as they are firm in their commitment and dare to dream and translate it into action. Fighting against corruption is not only a question of law but of will; we may have a law or not have a law. But do we have the will? How do the aam aadmi look at the Institution to be, the Lok Pal? Do I look at Lok Pal as the messiah which is to come to save, protect and liberate? Yes! A strong, independent and effective Lok Pal is necessary. But the contentions within the Lok Pal debates are making the matter more complicated. Lok Pal has to be made intelligible to the aam admi, practicable and workable. There are apprehensions, whether an Institution of Lokpal can tackle the whole issue of corruption? Lok Pal however strong it might be can only tackle one side of corruption. People save yourselves!
Lok Pal or no Lok Pal the struggle to combat corruption is incomplete unless we address the real issues; unless we strike at its roots or at the sources of corruption. The Issue of corruption is about injustices or inequalities; structural inequalities, huge concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a few, discrimination of different hues, class/caste and gender divide. Thus, corruption means trampling on the dignity of human beings and turning them into victims.
Emotional or reactionary type of approaches towards combating corruption would have little or no impact at all. A rational and deep thought are necessary: Sin and structures of sin are the effects of structural inequalities. Sin is not only an individual act of omission or commission, but the creation of a structure. Pope John Paul II spoke of sin and structures of sin as an individual, collective, corporate and institutional action and action that demean human dignity, that oppress and exploit. Salvation from sin and structures of sin become imperative.
The struggle against corruption becomes a struggle for Justice. Justice is not bestowing favors, indulging in patronage, not arbitrary, not charitable. Justice is not sentimental or emotional. Justice is redemptive, transformative and creative in character. “Kamai ia ka Hok” or earning through just and fair means, keeping one’s conscience upright and being truthful in life, the Khasi traditional praxis which speaks about Justice encompasses all and the same can be applied in politics, economics, trade and commerce and human relationships etc. Capital formation totally depends on labor, but the aam admi gets nothing except the bread crumbs that fall from the high table. There is tendency to prioritise need over greed, contentment over desire, sufficiency over accumulation.
In the traditional society the underlying ideas of sharing and respect to nature as against the idea that glorifies individual ambition and competition over civil responsibility and community well being served as an alternative model A shift from dependency to interdependence which will also lead to independence so as to enable to control one’s life. The right to private property is subjected to the Right to common use, to the fact that that goods are meant for everyone. Wealth or property has a social function. Because of the savagery unleashed by heartless free markets and unregulated capitalism on millions of people, its is important to critically look at the reforms and the impact it has had in the past twenty years.
Faith or religion for that matter is baseless and powerless without Truth. Therefore bringing religion into Public Square is essential if not necessary. Howard Zinn said Truth has a power of its own. Saints and sages of all colors from Jesus to Mahatma Gandhi had made the best use of the power of Truth in their struggle for emancipation. Jesus once had spoken “Truth shall set you free” and Truth is a timeless moral and interestingly the United Nations had declared the twenty fourth day of March as a day for the Right to Truth and this day is attributed to the life of Arch Bishop Oscar Romero (1917-1980). Romero decided to speak the truth openly without fear or favor. He did not speak for one group, for the Government or the guerilla fighters. He simply spoke the truth. And he paid the price for speaking, with his life.
Sin and structures of sin, which belong to the realm of faith, must be conquered by committing ourselves to the good of others. Losing oneself for the sake of others rather than exploiting him/her and serving the other rather than oppressing him/her. Expressing solidarity with the other helps us see the other, whether a person, people or nation, not as mere objects to be used and abused but as neighbours and fellow beings at par with ourselves.
In our struggle for a just and corruption free society we need to find an alternative. The alternative is within democracy itself. Democracy has to be deepened or in a sense a need for social democracy. When the constitution was promulgated, Ambedkar said, “With the Constitution of the Republic we shall have political democracy. What we do not have yet is social democracy” a democracy which stands for (i) freedom not only for individual liberties, but also freedom from discrimination and freedom from dependence on either the owners of the means of production or holders of abusive political power (ii) equality not only before the law but socio-economic and cultural equality and equal opportunities for all, including those with physical, mental or social disabilities. Can Lok Pal tame the demon of inequality, the nexus between politician-corporate-bureaucrat and private monopolies etc? We are debating on Lok Pal in a State which is poor. Besides, being poor, our forests covers are diminishing rapidly, minerals are exhausted, both land utility and soil fertility is going to outlive soon for obvious reasons, in a society where there is growing demand for bigger roads to fit the SUVs, rather than having more public transport; in a society which seems to be happy of having private hospitals and private educational institutions more than public health care units and improvised public schools/ institutions respectively. In a State where the bulk of the budget is borne by aids, grants and other freebies provided by the Centre and our “netas” and “babus” are riding on them.
At this moment battles rage across the country and the State over the public distribution system, the CGI sheets for the poor, the infamous jail break which has brought citizens together under the Steering Committee Against the Murder of Democracy and the battle is still on. But at times we have already felt the death of our life and our polity. The society is yet to come to terms with the ostracization of women in Jongksha and Mawsynram villages for using RTI. Can Lok Pal tame these abusive powers? Lok Pal itself will become intimidated by a few who are eighty times wealthier than the rest of the population.
Alongside the demand for strong, independent and effective Lok Pal, a move to dismantle structural inequality, to break the culture of arbitrariness and impunity, to reclaim power and put it back in the right place, that is, in the hands of the people and to bring about participatory decision-making are vital. Such movements should emanate from the people themselves as Howard Zinn said, “power ultimately resst in people”. Corruption thrives in the threshold of ideas and it should be responded with an Idea. The IDEA is the People of this country!
(The author is a leader of the Presbyterian Church and an RTI acitvist)