Facing Corruption at the Local Police Office: a true story about ethics

Just yesterday I went to my local police station for the address verification for my passport. Thankfully the experience/ordeal (related below) is over, for now.

For a long while I was postponing going to the police station for the passport address verification because I knew the passport clerk would make me feel terrible about not knowing the local language (Kannada, I speak Hindi and English) and also he would make me wait and wait and also that he would ask me for a bribe. Then, I had an epiphany. Why not simply pay an amount like about Rs. 100 as a tip for a job well done, something like that. My rationale was that I do the same for cab-drivers, or waiters (though the amount varies depending on the service), so why not here? Regardless, I decided not to fight the bribe issue. And suddenly I felt much better; more relaxed and was able to approach the police station (otherwise I would have delayed even further).

Then, just before I went, I had a conversation with my wife about this. And she obviously (obvious if you know my wife) felt my compromise was wrong. I agreed. But I said that it was a personal battle as well, not just a moral battle. I was really scared, but now I feel better. I also said that her condemnation of the act as “wrong” was too generalised because there are different wrongs… ie. people paying bribes to get ahead is so much different than paying a bribe to avoid confrontation.

None of my explanations were meant to explain away the situation… but I know personally… I’m a little more comfortable with being ethically wrong than my wife…

Of course, yesterday morning my wife and I prayed, and we prayed that the Lord’s will be done, and the Lord will direct our path. In my heart, as I prayed, I knew that I was willing to pay the money, and yet I was willing to pray this prayer.

Come the time to meet the passport clerk, and this is what happened.

First he told me to sit down and took ages to find my file. He seemed to be busy with something else and was even shouting at a lady police officer (who was being used as a secretary, I think).

Then, he eventually found my file and asked me the usual questions. He then gave me a form, which was in Kannada (and I have no idea what it said) and told me to get four photocopies made from a near-by photo-copy shop outside. I walked to the shop and wondered why four? But still I did what he asked.

I returned, and the clerk was busy doing something else… and it was clearly not something related to my work. I gave him the form, he made me sign on one. And I realised he wanted the other forms for other people who will be coming for passport address verification (I was basically doing his work).

I waited for a long time again, and finally he said the procedure was over. But gave me a glance suggesting “over.” I wasn’t sure, so I asked him to be clear. And he said, yes, it’s over. you can go. As I got up to leave, he asked me, “Fees?” which in this terms clearly means a bribe, because there is no fees to be paid at the police station and I said…

…flashback…

this is what I was thinking all along, while sitting waiting for the clerk. I was at peace for a while, but during my time at the station, I felt a little taken advantage of. Clearly the job was simpler, but the man had no respect for my time, nor did he seem to have respect for others. After realising the form I photocopied was not for me alone… I felt that this man was actually looking for freebies. And worse, I noticed that he was delaying, at the end of the process, waiting for no one to be around him. I don’t know if it was a nexus that before he finished all the people around him cleared off… but I know that he seemed to be doing inane tasks just to bide more time… so…

(end of flashback)

As I got up to leave, he asked me, “Fees?” which in this terms clearly means a bribe, because there is no fees to be paid at the police station and I said… “Will I get a bill?” And he said nothing. And he said again “fees”, with a half smile. And I said, I can’t give him something. He told me to sit down. “Oh, uh!” I thought. And again he delayed. And then asked again, “Fees” And I told him (a lie) that the college I work for will not allow me to pay anything that does not have a bill, because it is (and this is true) a Christian college. He didn’t seem too happy and and reiterated, I’m sorry I can’t give you anything. And he literally threw my form on top of piles of paper and I left, saying “Thank you”.

Reflection

Now I’m not trying to say that I’m a saint. Clearly I (even though I’m a Christian) was willing to pay a bribe to just get out of the situation. And I know that is wrong. Then, when the strange chance came to say no, (for which I’m glad I did), I said “no” for the wrong reasons (For the way I was being treated) and then I said it in a wrong way, I lied about the reasons why I can’t pay a bribe. This is a clear indication of false ethics… for true ethics.

Yet, in all this, I know that the Lord was in the situation… and I was praying really hard… and I’m still praying really hard… (asking beyond my ability)… that there will be no glitch… even though I don’t deserve this grace from the Lord. I know I don’t deserve it, I surely am not a paragon of virtue here… but I hope that through this system, my papers will still be passed and approved… in time… in His time.

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Passage for this Season

Philippians 2:11-13 (NIV) (12)Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, (13)for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

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