India's Aruna Roy Sizes Up Corruption Problems

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Indian social activist Aruna Roy discusses the importance of the 2005 right-to-information law that she helped pioneer and the challenge of keeping the anti-corruption movement from getting caught in red tape.

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Moving Forward

Q: So how do you see the Jan Lokpal process moving forward?

A: Two things are very important. One is the framing of the Lokpal itself. The other is about corruption in a democracy.

The Lokpal will address the corruption in the system of governance, which if it functioned well will bring down some of the obvious aspects of corruption. But let's not forget that when we talk of corruption we are also looking at huge amounts of corruption outside government today. Because of the kind of economic stratagems -- thanks to the dominant economic paradigm that we have accepted -- much of the money and much of the decision-making has shifted from the government to the private sector. Big money and big business have come into the media, into corporations, into nongovernmental groups and many other structures, including professional groups like doctors and the like.

So you actually have to see how democracy can make equality and equal access important norms for every Indian, no matter where he or she is placed.

Given that, I think the need today is for accepting and facing issues centrally and not have these black-and-white -- simplistic actually -- definitions of corruption. There is also the need for the internalization of ethics, the internalization of the need to share, especially among those who are now madly following their dream of affluence.

Q: What makes you hopeful?

A: If I did not have faith that people can change things, I would pack my bags and leave. There are so many beautiful examples of this, but they never get media attention so we don't know about them. The challenge is to get those small battles won every day. And I live in the middle of those people. When I see them full of hope, I have absolutely no business to nurture feelings of hopelessness.

Also one important empowerment process I have firmly believed in is the ability to understand what one wants to say, to articulate it and then fight for a platform to say it. Now this is a democracy and if the women's movement had not happened we would have been completely smothered. Of course, it doesn't end there, because people keep getting co-opted into the power system. So the process is a cyclical one. It could change from issue to issue. But it is a process that could energize India provided it is tethered to a sense of justice and fairness.

It would disquiet me as a human being if I cannot speak out about whatever I think is going wrong. I may not be able to do anything about it, but I would need to articulate it. I think that is what keeps me going. I say this with a sense of humility: Change cannot be brought about by one individual or even a set of individuals. But what every set of individuals can contribute is to make that little difference, which together with other efforts can turn many wheels, so that the larger wheel will be forced to turn.


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This article is adapted from one that was released by the Women's Feature Service. For more articles on women's issues log on to: http://www.wfsnews.org.

Pamela Philipose is the director of Women's Feature Service in New Delhi. Previously she was senior associate editor with The Indian Express, a leading national daily in India.

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