Tag Archive | India

The next Nobel Peace Prize goes to…

Here’s to hoping that Sayyid Abdullah Hashemi is at least considered for the Nobel Peace Prize. I have no idea how his work (turning around all the corrupt orphanages run by the Afghani government) made it to the NYT, or what keeps him going despite all the threats from incumbent, well-connected orphanage directors, or how he’s doing a better job at age 29 than most people twice his age… but I’m glad I came across his story nonetheless.

[I at least think he’s a more worthwhile candidate than Obama was, but that’s besides the point.] What’s more important is figuring out how to facilitate the work done by him and others like him in developing countries, who have fantastic ideas, refuse to abide by the status quo of corrupt government bureaucracies, and are often sidetracked, discouraged, or stopped altogether once they upset the wrong [well-connected] person.

To say, as an economist would, that government officials and others that perpetuate corruption aren’t paid enough, isn’t good enough in my opinion. They may not be paid enough, but that can be said for the vast majority of people in developing countries. To say, as a sociologist might, that these are deeply-ingrained norms perpetuated by the culture and its people, isn’t good enough either. But the combination of these two, now that holds promise.

A great paper by Sunil Sondhi addressing the history and dynamics of corruption in India outlines 4 main courses of action to combat corruption:

  1. Demonstrated political commitment to combatting corruption
  2. Administrative accountability (and enforcement)
  3. Procedural simplification
  4. Active & vigilant civil society groups (like national chapters of Transparency International)

While Mr. Sondhi seems to imply that actions by a government must necessarily come first (such as creating independent government bodies to monitor corruption), I think that this can only come after enough people rally against corruption, especially in the case of non-democracies (as in, countries where citizens have little political say and whose opinions are often overlooked). Politicians have few incentives to curb corruption unless the people responsible for their staying in office no longer approve of the politician’s practices and can stage a revolt. I liked Mr. Sondhi’s idea of Gandhi-style non-violent mass protests (in particular, “24 hour relay fasts” staged at the same time as parliamentary sessions), though this might not work in places where food insecurity and starvation are the norm…

——– Update:

Funny how there’s an article in the IHT about the Indian anti-corruption efforts a few hours after I wrote my post. The author essentially claims that the anti-corruption movement, started a few months ago by Anna Hazare, an aging old man with outdated opinions, has failed due to the fact that people couldn’t actually relate to his views once they found out what they were. However, it pointed out a deeper flaw in the system: that the majority of Indians who had market and political power, and who would stand to benefit from less corruption–the growing middle class–have not actually done much themselves. They may have written blogs and articles lamenting of the corruption, but did nothing to mobilize themselves and actually change their own behavior. It’s a lot easier to say that you support one man (in this case, Anna Hazare) who supposedly represents you, and to say that you’re too busy to rally because of your work and family obligations.

And maybe that’s why protests in Egypt and Tunisia worked — the majority of the masses in the beginning were unemployed and/or unmarried. Something to keep in mind for those that will hopefully take up the challenge after Hazare …

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The Symbolism of Progress (or lack of progress)

The New York Times’ India Ink blog ran an interesting story about melting police-seized guns into agricultural tools to try to reduce the levels of violent crime in Bihar. While peace will likely be harder to attain than just by melting guns (especially guns which have been seized after already being used to commit murder), the symbolism of reworking weapons to rework the land is interesting and sounds like something Gandhi would have approved of.

The question now, of course, is whether all these new farm tools will be put to use. Many of the weapons seized were “country-made firearms,” known as katta. This is to say that they are made fairly cheaply and easily. A gunsmith in Ganga recalls:

“The barrel can be made from any hard good quality metal pipe, the butt and the trigger are fashioned from raw metal, the hammer is generally improvised from the spring of a stove and some nails. And if I have the raw material, I can manufacture it in one-and-a-half hour’s time. All I use is a hammer, chisel, pliers, a screw-driver and a forge with bellows,” he adds.

If kattas are made this easily and cheaply, what’s to say that melted guns-turned-farmtools can’t be reworked once more? If the stashes of weapons across the province suddenly disappear, what’s to prevent demand for more guns from rising? It takes a whole societal shift, not just fewer guns. As the same gunsmith observes, “Weddings, festivals and election time usually spell higher sales.” Ironic, no, that weddings, festivals, and fair elections are usually associated with peace and prosperity elsewhere?