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Religon and Corruption in Indian Context

Religon and Corruption in Indian Context

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RELIGION AND CITIZENSHIP
Economic & Political
Weekly
 
EPW
january 7, 2012 vol xlvIi no 1
61
 Vinod Pavarala (
 vpavarala@gmail.com
) and Kanchan K Malik teachat the department of communications, University of Hyderabad,Hyderabad.
Social Constructions of Religiosity and Corruption
 Vinod Pavarala, Kanchan K Malik
Religion coexists with what may be described as aliberalised, cosmopolitan and global outlook amongIndians and remains an indispensable part of the culturalethos and social fabric of Indian society. However,interpretations of both religion and corruption areextremely diverse. Notwithstanding the existence of deep-seated faith with strong moral values, religion isnot seen as contributing to the moral or spiritual fabric of the nation in present times, while corruption is regardedas pervasive. Very few of the respondents canvassed inthis study thought that we should count on religion tomake a difference in people’s general attitudes towardscorruption. Respondents indicated that their confidencein the accountability of religious organisations is low,and it is therefore problematic to assume that religiousorganisations are likely to be either appropriate oreffective vehicles for fighting corruption. In fact,religion is looked upon as a discredited entity by many,largely due to a sense of popular disillusionment withits “caretakers”.
N
otions of “religiosity” vary greatly and religion meansdifferent things to different people. However, there is nodenying that religion plays an important role in theeveryday lives of people in India, both inside the home and in thepublic domain. It is also looked upon as a potent tool for promot-ing moral and ethical conduct and for inculcating discipline inthe lives of individuals. In countries where religion plays a vitalrole in the lives of most people, it has often been assumed thatmany persons, including public servants, derive their ethicalframework from their religion. Faith does indeed provide many  with a language of ethics and, often, an actual “list” of rules tolive by, some of which can be interpreted as being of particularimportance in ghting corruption.In India, neither the prevalence of corruption nor anxietiesover it are new. A number of public ofcials, politicians, corpo-rate executives and so-called spiritual leaders – amongst others– implicated in corruption scams and scandals continue to makeregular headlines, even as we approach the 65th year of our inde-pendence. Corruption is a taken-for-granted reality, and one witha strong multi-sector presence in India. One cannot help but em-pathise with the views of the former Central Vigilance Commis-sioner of India, N Vittal (2003: cover page) that the average Indiancitizen “cannot go to any public organisation or ofce today andget the services which they are supposed to get without eitherpaying [a] bribe or bringing inuence by way of recommenda-tions or references from
 VIP
s”. Academic scholarship on the issue of corruption draws ontheory from economics, public administration, and political science.Such approaches have produced a materialistic understanding of corruption, resulting in a focus on issues of good (or bad) govern-ance, bureaucratic (in)efciency in postcolonial state formations,political scandals that erupt from the politics-business nexus,and rent-seeking behaviours. Although such understanding may prove to be a basis for policy formulation, it does not adequately capture the complexity of the eld beyond paying lip service tohow cultural factors embodied in religion, morality, ethics, andnotions of modernity and tradition determine the nature, con-tent, and context of corruption.This paper seeks to address this oversight. It explores thehitherto uncharted relationship between religion and corruption,before examining related concepts of morality, ethics, modernity and tradition. The idea is that corruption cannot be understoodas a purely political and economic phenomenon; nor is religionmerely a set of textual tenets, but is rather a “lived reality” embo-died in social and cultural practices. We explore the terrain of beliefs,ideas, and meanings embedded in constructions of “religiosity”and “corruption” in order to understand socially constructed
 
RELIGION AND CITIZENSHIP
january 7, 2012 vol xlvIi no 1
EPW
 
Economic & Political
Weekly
62
realities, as well as locally contingent and emergent meanings when people categorise themselves as “being religious” or othersas “being corrupt”. We seek to understand the inuences thatshape the value systems of people, to assess the extent to whichthe patterns of thought and behaviour of our respondents are un-derwritten by religion and to what extent non-religious factorsshape their personal and professional codes of practice, and to as-certain whether people believe that religion can play any role inpromoting more ethical conduct in public life.
Religious Values and Corruption in India
The recurrent theme in the literature on religion and morality,and specically in Hindu thought, is the concept of dharma
 ,
com-monly translated as “duty” and “righteousness”. Its signicanceresides in texts that prescribe a moral course of action and a codeof conduct that advances an idealistic prescription for how oneshould lead one’s life. The most widely cited text that offersHindu perspectives on dharma is the Bhagavad Gita, a dialoguebetween Lord Krishna and Arjuna in the
 Mahabharata
, the greatIndian epic.
 Manusmriti
,
 Arthashastra
,
 Rajatarangini
, and
 Har- shacharita
are some other examples of ancient Indian works which give insights on the history of corruption (John 2000: 61). According to McGregor (1973: 70), “
dharma
tells us what ourduties are, both social and religious. It tells us what vices toavoid, mainly those owing from
 Kama
(lust),
 Lobha
(covetous-ness) and
 Krodha
(anger)”. Thus dharma, as expressed in religionor religious texts, becomes a code of conduct to be followed inroutine actions by human beings. Sheth (1995) draws upon theBhagavad Gita to offer a similar denition. According to thissource, whenever dharma
 
(collective behaviour guided by  values) is in jeopardy and society is dominated by 
adharma
 (violation of values), there is a human incarnation of a god whocomes to the rescue.
1
There has been a reasonable amount of research and theorisingon corruption in India and this has produced several denitions,explanations, taxonomies and typologies for public discourse aroundthe problem. Given the nature of corruption, there is rarely any agreement concerning the concept – except, perhaps, with regardto bribery – and the interpretations of corruption tend to vary withspecic social contexts and archetypical knowledge. While schol-ars seek to provide a working, “universal” denition of corruption,our literature review suggests that we are unlikely to nd a deni-tion that is universally applicable across and between cultures.In his study of a variety of denitions given by the elites fromthe state of Andhra Pradesh in India, Pavarala (1996) demon-strated that corruption is “indeed a site for contested meaning”.Narrow/legalistic denitions list a limited number of acts underthe category of corruption and approximate the denition of cor-ruption as established by the law. While these denitions aremainly a simplistic reection of existing legal provisions, morecommonly they are an expression of the spirit of the law, and aretherefore fundamentally legalistic. Although legal codes are usu-ally products of complex negotiations among dominant elitesover issues of morality and moral boundaries, narrow/legalisticdenitions are often expressed in language that is instrumental,rational and even amoral.Broad/moralistic denitions, on the other hand, includeaspects identied by the law as corruption, but often go beyond alegalistic view, articulating an abstract, amorphous morality.They list a large number of acts under the category of corruption:gift-giving, nepotism, cheating, fraud, lying, lobbying, andadulteration of food. Some denitions even include “intellectualcorruption”, “corruption of the soul” and “moral corruption”.Heidenheimer et al (1989) have organised denitions of corruption available in the social science literature around threebasic models: “public-interest-centred”, “public-ofce-centred”and “market-centred” (see also, Pavarala 1996; Sandholtz andKoetzle 1998; Amundsen 2000). Sangita (2000: 91), for example,provides a denition of corruption concerning public interest:“public-interest centred denition stresses the violation of com-mon interest that provides direct or indirect benets to the publicofcials.” Guhans and Samuel (1997), in summing up a critique of denitions that tend to be either too broad or indeterminate(misuse, violation), or too narrow (bribery), stress the need foran operational rather than an abstract denition.These classication schemes may be helpful in sorting out anoften confusing variety of activities considered by many to becorrupt, but they tend to impose an order on things that may inherently be less orderly in real life. As a consequence, classi-cation schemes are likely to have limited value in comparativeand cross-cultural comparisons (Pavarala 1996). Understandingof corrupt behaviour needs to be culture-specic, as practicesthat one society may disapprove of and label as corruption may be considered acceptable in a different sociocultural context(Sandholtz and Koetzle 1998).
Findings from the Fieldwork 
This study focused on two religions – Sikhism and Hinduism –chosen partly because of the research team’s cultural and linguis-tic familiarity with these traditions, and partly because of the na-ture and scale of inuence these religions exert in Punjab and Andhra Pradesh. Research was carried out at Amritsar, a majorcity in northern Punjab and home to the Golden Temple, Sikhism’sholiest shrine; Chandigarh, the capital of the region; and nally,Hyderabad, the capital city of Andhra Pradesh in southern India.Thirty-nine in-depth interviews and 11 focus group discussions were conducted with a total of 120 representatives from a variety of social groups, including the media, bureaucracy, academia, thecorporate world, development organisations, youth/students, andreligious associations. The majority of our respondents were, thus,urban, English-speaking, and to an extent, cosmopolitan. In thispaper, the views of the respondents of both religions in general,and their own religiosity are presented rst, followed by theirconceptions of corruption and their perceptions of how theirethical codes are shaped. Before concluding the paper, the viewsof the respondents about the potential for religion to be harnessedin attempts to reduce corruption are summarised.
On Being ‘Religious’
Not a single respondent among those we interviewed or held dis-cussions with claimed to be an “atheist”, although a majority saidthey were not religious in any “dogmatic”, or “narrow” way. One
 
RELIGION AND CITIZENSHIP
Economic & Political
Weekly
 
EPW
january 7, 2012 vol xlvIi no 1
63
Hindu bureaucrats, corporate executives, media persons andacademics from Hyderabad were also liberal in terms of theirinterpretation of religiosity and wanted to be identied as goingbeyond the ritualistic aspect of religion. They regarded religion asa higher reality not limited by “rules which dene a particular reli-gion”. A dynamic woman civil servant was quick to confess that,although she believed in “prayer”, she was a “quintessential cos-mopolitan”, and did not take going to temple regularly as “beingreligious”: “I go there because it is a place which has a particularenergy. I could nd the same energy in a mosque or a church. ...Itis not as though I must go there. It is not a dogma.” A young pro-prietor of an
IT
company in Hyderabad was clear that religion isabout realising oneself and not about rituals. In the long course of history, he suggested, people have forgotten the real meaning of religion and mistake the rituals that they practise for religion.Some of the bureaucrats and several corporate executives, inboth Punjab and Andhra Pradesh, also regarded religiosity per seas relatively unimportant, while emphasising the need to be “spir-itual” and follow the underlying philosophy and values professedby religion. A former chief secretary of the government, in his late70s, stated that he did not have any faith in rituals or what hecalled “superstitions”. For him, every religion has a spiritual basis,leading him to prefer to follow the teachings of those gurus who were, in his opinion, “mystics of the highest order”. Religion forhim was a thing of personal faith and spirituality.Similarly, an
IAS
ofcer and a managing director of a publicsector company in Hyderabad did not equate religion with ritual-ism, saying “I don’t run from temple to temple and perform allreligious ceremonies”. In addition, he claimed to believe in whathe called “humanitarian religion, where one human being is notpitted against another in the name of religion”, a view that wasechoed by a radio producer from the state-controlled All IndiaRadio, Hyderabad, who was of the opinion that: “We must be reli-gious in a very broad sense. Religion interests me in a culturalsense, basically as a thing which denes the way people behaveand live. In India culture and religion are not separate things.”The development workers interviewed largely attributed theirinspiration to work in the social sector to have come from religionand its teachings. As a doctor by profession and social worker by choice, the woman president of an internationally acclaimed homefor the destitute called her institution “a laboratory of the teachings of the Guru Granth Sahib”. The main thing in the book, she asserted, isto work for the well-being of all creatures –
Sarbat-da-bhala
. Shethought rituals to be important because if one does not go to thegurdwara, it would be difcult to know what the gurus have writ-ten, but, she argued, if one only follows ritual and forgets ethics, itis of no use: “Do not just chant
wahe-guru wahe-guru
[the name of God]; act according to the written rules and follow ethics”. A physician and social worker in a renowned medical centre inPunjab believed that his values come from his religion, and as-serted that Sikhism was unique in many ways –
the tenth guru gave us the tag ‘
 Khalsa
’ and he gave us this form, hegave us this particular appearance. So, he said that with this appear-ance you can’t hide anywhere and every Sikh is the messenger of the Almighty – that itself alters your behaviour and everything, in per-sonal and ofcial life.
interviewee, an anthropologist and a public servant, claimed, “Ihave never really been a religious-minded person” as he “challengesthe opinions, beliefs and ideas propagated by religion and analysesthem very critically”. However, he claried, “I am an agnostic;I’m not atheistic”. Our interaction with representatives from dif-ferent social groups (both Sikhs and Hindus) revealed considera-ble diversity in the interpretation of “religiosity”, as well as “be-ing religious”. Professionals such as bureaucrats, corporate exec-utives, media persons, and academics wanted to be categorisedas “partly” or “moderately” religious (which they did not think inany way meant being “less” religious), as they are not particularly ritualistic in their outlook. Still others in the same categories em-phasised the spiritual and values dimensions of religion. Those inthe development sector insisted that it is only by the “practice” of teachings that one justies a claim that one is religious. Respond-ents who are traditional business people were emphatic in high-lighting the importance of both the ritualistic and symbolic as wellas the values and ethical characteristics of religion and made nobones about dening the role that religion plays in their lives. Theresponses from among the youth and students on professionalcourses were wide-ranging and many of their interpretationsreected one or the other of the four viewpoints mentioned here.
Religious vs Ritualistic
 A majority among the bureaucrats, young corporate executives,media persons, and academics preferred not to be categorised as“very” religious, at least if a “strictly” ritualistic sense of the term were adopted. Sikh respondents indicated that they may notstrictly follow some religious practices, such as visiting the gurd- wara regularly, reciting the holy scriptures, baptism, and wearingof religious symbols. Among Hindus, rituals like temple attend-ance, fasting on holy days, doing pujas (special prayers), going onpilgrimage, and wearing of 
bottu
(vermilion) on the forehead were suggestive of a person’s religious inclination. Although it was evident from the appearance of many of theSikh respondents that a majority displayed the prescribed symbolsof their religion, clearly many felt that this was not enough to becalled religious. As one bureaucrat who is the managing directorof a public sector company claimed, “I am religious by appearancebecause we have some [overt] symbols, and so I display thosesymbols”. But he did not want to be categorised as “stringently”religious, as he felt that his actions are not guided by ritualism. Heclaimed instead to be religious to the extent that he consistently follows “the basic tenets of every religion – humility, service tohumanity, and welfare of the needy and downtrodden”. A Sikh media person who considered himself religious said that“at the very crux of it, it means accepting and trying to understandcertain core values of religion as a part of your life and at a very supercial level it means adhering to the various symbols”. A publicservant and president of a trade association in Punjab suggestedthat there are two types of religious Sikhs: rst, the person wholooks Sikh, i e, is externally religious (by way of dressing), and sec-ond, the person who follows the path set by the gurus. The second,he asserted, is more important, but he also emphasised the need tobe a Sikh of the rst kind, as outward symbols, in his view, inculcatethe discipline of learning about and understanding the religion.

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