Prof S.P. Bhattacharyya
(The author is Retd. Principal, Assam Engineering College, Guwahati)
Corruption, simply speaking, can be defined as dishonest and illegal action or behavior by individuals or some vested interest groups — to take undue benefit from such activities at the cost of rights and privileges of others — which gradually demoralizes the entire society. Similarly, cancer can be defined as a disease / malaise which manifests itself through a silent (initially) uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body (or body parts) which often leads to death/ deformities with the best of available treatment. I once heard a famous surgeon, in course of a presentation before us (non-medicos), explain cancer in the following simple terms. He said that the growing up of a foetus inside the womb into a full-sized baby at birth within the short period of gestation (about 9 months) becomes possible only through an extra-ordinarily rapid rate of cell division which in many ways is similar to what happens in case of cancer except that the growth in the former (foetus) is self-limiting and orderly while in the latter (cancer) it is uncontrolled and disorderly. He also added, “…… the day we shall succeed in unraveling the mystery behind cancer, we may as well succeed in unraveling the mystery of life and death”.
Most of us may not know that our life is an organic system which sustains itself through a complex metabolic process having a range of self correcting capacity to take care of minor/major aberrations caused by diseases /disabilities with or even without medicine. But this semi-automatic control system of the body cannot take care of the affliction called cancer. The early symptoms of the disease may be an apparently innocuous swelling (tumour) here or an ulcer there which does not heal under conventional treatment (or resurfaces elsewhere in the body after temporary healing) which may ultimately be diagnosed as cancer. In case it is cancer, there is no option but to live with it as long and as well as one can with the available treatment, though cancer is often curable if detected at an early stage. So much for cancer.
Corruption, like cancer, is a malaise of our social system which debilitates the society from within and for which there seems to exist only palliative and no curative treatment. Volumes have been written by social scientists on how corruption becomes endemic in all backward countries and ultimately depraves the rich and poor alike in its own characteristic ways. Even the so-called advanced countries are also not free from the scourge of corruption though its size and spread are quite different and much less damaging than ours.
Our mind is the abode of corruption and no laws of the State or bindings of society can rein in our thinking except marginally. As a matter of fact, human beings live in two distinctly different entities; the body and the mind. The body needs food and nutrition but the mind is not content with just that. Our social reformers, of whom we have had many (not taking into account the fake ‘babas’ around us), also could not be of much help in ridding the society of corruption. Nor can education, because a great many of the so- called educated turn out to be only educated rascals who consider their academic achievements a license for looting others whenever and wherever there is an opportunity. One of the reasons is that almost every society inevitably gets divided into the so-called ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ or according to the recent phraseology, the poor and the so-called benefactors of the poor (new nomenclature for the rich?). As long as there will be gross asymmetry in distribution of wealth in society (1% of world's population own 50% of world's wealth as of now), eradication of corruption will remain only a distant dream. Thus, like cancer which is a genetic disorder, corruption is a psychic disorder aggravated by extreme economic disparity in society to which all of us are more or less vulnerable at some point or other.
As we all know, corruption has always been present in our society in some form or other such as nepotism, favouritism as well as a hundred other ways including plain bribery. Law can never be exhaustive and there will always be gaps and holes unavoidably/intentionally left uncovered. through which not only the high and mighty but anyone can slip through and carry on corrupt practices with impunity, be it in the name of religion and/or politics. A bench of judges of the Supreme Court only recently observed that gratification of money, power, lust etc, all constitute corrupt practices of one kind or the other, from which even the legal system is not immune (a case of corruption in high places has only recently come to light of how the personal income-tax of ministers and chief ministers in U.P. was being paid from the State exchequer for more than last 30 years).
Almost every other modern society today claims a semblance of fair play by putting in place a system of government or State where a handful of people come to occupy the seat of power and rule over the rest (thankfully for a limited period) as their protectors /benefactors / leaders either in the name of god (as it was in the past) or the people‘s representatives (as it is in the name of democracy now). Unfortunately, power and corruption invariably join hands and democracy, the way it is practised in many countries including our own, generally allows people to replace one corrupt government by another (all of whom come to power by proclaiming zero tolerance for corruption) — only to discover sooner than later that they bargained for the same old wine in a new bottle. It is often said that periodical elections, particularly after the political space has been taken over by opportunists of all description, is the mother of all corruption. No wonder, corruption is often said to be ‘hydra-headed’ as it resembles the characteristics of the snake called ‘hydra’ (of Greek mythology) having many heads which would grow again and again even if cut off. To conclude, corruption seems to be one of the ugly facets of humanity from which it is difficult to get rid of easily, and society will have to go on paying its price through tears and blood till such time as yet unknown.