The problem of corruption in Indian public and private life is vast and complex. According to a 2006 report by the Swiss Banking Association, India has more money hidden in Swiss accounts than the rest of the world combined. If the money in those accounts were returned to India, the government could pay off its debt thirteen times over. Yet India’s reputation as a poor country persists and more than 40 percent of its population lives in extreme poverty (on an income of less than $1.25 per day).
Corruption, so deeply woven into the fabric of everyday life here, is at the root of much of India’s poverty and helps explain the vast disparity between the rich and the poor. Transparency International, a watchdog NGO based in Berlin whose mandate is to monitor corporate and political corruption in international development, estimates that 55 percent of Indians have firsthand experience in paying or receiving bribes and using influence to get things done.
I’m surprised only by how low the number is. In my experience, corruption is a part of everything in India. It determines how we think, defines our relationships, and dictates our behavior. Our health, safety, routines, and attitudes are all created, infected, and reinforced by it.
It also kills. I knew a child who was electrocuted at a wedding when the caterers set up their tents with live wires. Pay off an inspector and carry on regardless. That goes for building codes, food and drug administration,...