Tag Archives: bribery

Traveling in India: Bribes and Baksheesh

India’s massive corruption in government has come to a head with Anna Hazare’s hunger strike. However, corruption is not exclusive to India, nor is it new in that country. But India may have made it a fine art.

When I traveled to India, lo these many years ago, I was aware of the bribery (or baksheesh as they call it) before I went. However, due to an ingenuous blend of naiveté and stubbornness I managed not to pay a single rupee. I probably extended my waiting, boredom and frustration but I made it through with the limited funds I had. Mostly, I imagine they left tourists alone who might not know the system or understand what one had to do. There are only two incidences that I think involved a try for a bribe.

When I left the tribal state of Meghalaya, I had to make sure I had a transit paper or visa that showed I was allowed in the state, where foreigners could only enter with a special permit. Because I was traveling into Assam, the neighboring state, I needed to show I was allowed to travel between states. The border was closed at the time because the Khasis and Assamese were fighting with each other (they’re traditional tribal enemies). It was a very long, hot and thirsty bus ride to the Assam airport and then, typical of Indian time, a three-hour wait for the late plane.

I’d probably been sitting there two hours when three men came rushing over, in three different colored suit jackets asking to see my passport. At first I was confused because there was nothing that indicated that they were official in any capacity. And for all I know two of them might not have been. Then I was taken into a back office where they pored over my passport and the papers and wrote everything out, in painstakingly slooooow handwriting. I believe they were trying to intimidate or scare me into paying but I wasn’t sure so I just sat there and let the guy write out everything. After all, I had time to kill until the plane arrived.

The second time was as I was returning from Nepal into India, where you must go through a double border check. Due to the fact that Indians will give you directions even if they don’t know the right directions, I had been told to wait for my connecting bus from the border town of Gorakhpur (near enough to be a major outpost) at the wrong spot and therefore missed it. This meant that I had to take a later bus not meant for tourists. So I was the only white person and only woman on the bus that drove off into the dark of night. Everything was fine and I was sleeping when the bus was pulled over and two men in nondescript jackets boarded and demanded to see my documents and what was in my bag. Note that in India (at least the areas I was in) men and women do not touch in public at all. This doesn’t mean they won’t try to sneak a fondle at a tourist’s expense but it means that a male border inspector won’t search a woman.

I showed them my papers and one bag and then they said, get off the bus. It was not just dark outside but pitch black, barely any lights to indicate a city and nothing but fields around. So I asked them to get my pack off the roof (where bags were stored) and which direction was the closest city. All I could think to do so late at night was walk. They looked at me and said, “What are you doing? Get back on the bus.” So I did, wondering if they had wanted me to pay baksheesh but too bewildered to know it.

The saddest example of seeing what bribery was doing to India, was when I was in Shillong, Meghalaya. I was talking to these bright young men, some in university. They were already defeated because they said that there was little chance of getting a good job without paying baksheesh. They saw no future for themselves and it was such a waste of brilliant minds. Now this was before Microsoft and the IT industry started outsourcing so maybe it got a bit better, but obviously one of the biggest epidemics in a country 1 billion strong, is the rampant bribery that still affects them.

For a bit of fun, here is an artist’s image of Baksheesh Boy.

Advertisements

3 Comments

Filed under Culture, life, memories, people, politics, security

Conform or Die

I would say we live in a society of conformity but it may go deeper than that. Perhaps, we as human beings have always been this way. After all, we are social animals. We work and gather in groups, for safety, for economy, for interactions.

As humans formed these groups that became villages and cities, they had to get people to work together, to agree to the same rules and beliefs.We can see in the world today probably moreso even than the world of five thousand years ago, or maybe not, what happens when someone doesn’t agree with the status quo.

It can be as mild as “I don’t agree with you,” to as severe as being put to death or incarcerated for going against the norm. The Taleban kills people for not following their way. The Canadian government sways from Conservative to Liberal if people don’t think their leaders are representing their views. It’s a broad spectrum.

On a purely social level you have the cool kids, those with natural charisma (before they learn to bribe their way to the top) who attract others to them. It is often ephemeral what gives a person this elusive charisma. Sometimes it is physical looks. Who can deny the power of stars and their amazing good looks that give them millions of bucks, not always correlating with their acting ability?

Often charisma rests on personality, which can be a greater tour de force than beauty. Coupled, they can be unstoppable.  The third area that attracts cronies is that of beliefs. Political parties and religions work on this but they often team up with personality. In essence, those are the three bases of charisma: physical beauty, personality, beliefs. You can gain popularity through riches but charisma is slightly different and really the realm of beliefs fall more to popularity but can gain heights with a charismatic leader.

It’s a well-known fact that good looking people get farther and get away with more in the world. As a child I was pudgy and shy, not good combos for charisma. You don’t get shy, charismatic people. I was never one of the cool kids. No one ever flocked to me because of my beliefs, nor my riches. The cruelty of children is untempered by the later skills that we learn of double speak, backstabbing and passive aggressive tolerance. Luckily children are also more resilient to the taunts and ostracization, sort of. Sometimes we bear the scars for life.

I was picked on some, because I was easy pickings. I didn’t fight back. I was vulnerable and like sharks in bloodied waters, everyone knew. So I changed. I grew a tough shell, I made myself more outward going. It wasn’t easy, still isn’t easy. Being one of the cool kids matters less as an adult unless you’re trying to win in politics or take over the world.

We all have our social groups, and probably have some charisma. We are blends or normal people. But we can still suffer the fear of being nonconformist. I never mastered conformity and it’s caused me much grief. Try and act normal, think like everyone else, dress like them. Fit into the crowd and you won’t be singled out. Stand out too much, in the wrong, unpopular way and people won’t talk to you or associate with you. We may not be shot in our social groups for not fitting in but we may die nonetheless.

Today I don’t feel that humans are so great at being civilized. We suck at communication, yet use a variety of forms. Unfortunately, one person’s body language means something different to someone else. The same words can mean many things and silence can mean many more. If you conform, you’ll have less to worry about, until someone decides you offended them or that they dislike you for some other reason. Then you may not even know you should apologize or that you have to watch your back.

1 Comment

Filed under Culture, family, fashion, life, people, relationships