And the winner of the greasiest palm is…

Having just finished reading Egyptian activist Wael Ghonim’s memoir Revolution 2.0, I am reminded that some significant fraction of the heated talk about how the Arab revolutions were caused by social networks like Facebook and Twitter was an attempt by the American media to put the United States and its technology at the center of a story that, really, didn’t have much to do with us.  As Ghonim’s book makes clear, technology is just a tool that brings people together — but sometimes that coming together and its corollary, the dispersion of information, is essential.  In Tunisia and Egypt, it helped bring down authoritarian regimes that had looked likely to last forever.  Now, in India, a website called I Paid a Bribe allows users to report the sort of small-scale shakedowns that are the bane of daily life in many developing societies in an attempt to name and shame institutions and departments (though not individuals) that previously were protected by the silence of their victims.

Will it work?  Not on its own, surely, anymore than Wael Ghonim’s “We Are All Khalid Said” Facebook page can be said to have singlehandedly brought down the Mubarak regime.  But Mubarak is gone and change must start somewhere.

Here are a few of the bribery stories readers have sent in [Note: check below for an update]:

Bribe for police verification
Reported : February 26, 2012 – 08:15 | City : Bangalore
Paid On : February 7, 2012 | Paid : 400 rupees
Department: Police
Office Location: hal police stat
Transaction: Passport verification
Bribe Type: personal
Details: i was called by a policeman handling passport verification at HAL police station informing me that my file was with him for verification. depite being a renewal with no address change i was asked for the money in the police station in front of other police constables with a picture of the mahatma in the background. i had to pay as he clearly said that he will need the money to pass the file. i am ashamed of myself and the system where i have to compromise my self respect. i admire what this site stands for. please publsh my story.


for notice regarding lost purse and documents

Reported : February 23, 2012 – 14:28 | City : Patna
Paid On : February 14, 2012 | Paid : 200 rupees
Department: Police
Office Location: Barh
Transaction: Others
Bribe Type: personal
Details: The MUNSI in Barh ********** told me to pay one day salary for accepting an application in which I mentioned I have lost my purse along with documents.. Even though I did nothing wrong they asked for money and have again called me for giving document which they will give me only if I will again give them bribe… Bribe for my right… Police is not a protecter its like *******


Bribe paid to get land registered
Reported : February 22, 2012 – 19:39 | City : Chandigarh
Paid On : February 2, 2012 | Paid : 25000 rupees
Department: Revenue Department
Office Location: Kharar Tehsil
Transaction: Registration of land
Bribe Type: personal

Dear Sir,

I want to complain about the system of getting the land registered in one`s name (Registration of land) in court`s of Punjab especially Kharar tehsil near Chandigarh. The Tehsildar will not report for his duty till 3:ooPM and then will sign documents without even looking at face of the seller or buyer. This long waiting has already drained the public. But this is not all. After signature when you go to pay the required fees to the concerned person, they will take 1%of registration fee as the required amount specified by govt. with receipt as court fee and demand same amount as bribe without any receipt. They say this is compulsory and whoever refuse to pay this amount has to wait for days to get his land registered. This is very bad especially for public and poor people. Please expose this recket so that poor people will not be *******


Update (26 Apr): Though this website is trying to address bribery demands by state employees rather than politicians, there is the widespread perception that politicians in India — and elsewhere, of course — are making out like bandits.  Th fish rots from head down, as the saying goes.  Today Ray Fisman at Slate has a revealing analysis of the asset disclosure statements of Indian politicians, which have been required since 2003, and compares them to the wealth gains of the opponents they beat in elections in an attempt to measure how office has enriched them.  The short answer: they get 6% richer per year, on average, than the controls.  The long answer: almost all of this is made by ministers, so that what is left for more lowly politicians is practically no additional gain at all.  Is this encouraging?  Not really: that is pretty much how the gains are divided in the drug trade as well.


Click here to read why I waited twenty years for the New York Times to start its India blog, India Ink.  Or here to read about the urban plan of New Delhi on its centennial anniversary.  Or here to meet an elderly woman in Kerala who is the last known practitioner of an unusual form of puppetry.


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