Raja Sekhar Vundru

Raja Sekhar Vundru's Writings

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Location: New Delhi, India

Ph.D on Dr.Ambedkar's Electoral System from the National Law School, Bangalore (NLSUI) Currently working as Deputy Director General, UIDAI, Government of India , New Delhi +911123752322 (office)

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

The Caste of Corruption

Published in Times Of India, New Delhi. 4, October, 2005

The caste of corruption



During the days of Mandal agitation, those opposed to the extension of reservations to other backward classes (OBCs) devised ingenious arguments against the Mandal argument.

Inspired by them, young girls attempted suicide, young men tried to immolate themselves and many protested by polishing shoes (to display their loss of status, since shoe-shining is the job of an untouchable).

In August 1990, the Jawaharlal Nehru University Students Union (JNUSU) lost its pro-Mandal resolution in the university general body meeting. The union resigned. A few days later, some of us left JNU for the LBS National Academy of Administration, Mussoorie, to pursue our careers in the civil services.

When north India was burning, we were being trained to be agents of social change. One guest lecturer at the academy, Rajinder Singh of Delhi University, told the 300-odd trainees that all scheduled caste and scheduled tribe officers who got in through reservation in the civil services were corrupt. The learned professor explained that since the reserved category officers came from poor economic backgrounds, they couldn't resist the temptation of money.

In their valiant attempt to stall Mandal, anti-Mandal groups projected SCs and STs as corrupt, thereby trying to suggest that the OBCs would also be similar. The logic was with more such reserved categories entering services, the administration would be in grave danger of being infested with corrupt people.

Not much has changed. Caste still gets raked up when corruption is debated. Even today, if one black sheep among the lower castes is caught for corrupt practices, his or her caste gets chastised for the individual's doings.

Take the example of a news report in Times of India dated October 2, 2005, on the recent CBI raids against a scheduled tribe officer. "For somebody who entered the IRS in 1977 citing social and economic backwardness, he seems to have done quite well for himself since then", the reporter comments.

The single biggest recovery of cash from a civil servant was made in May, 2005 from an officer in the anti-adulte-ration cell of petroleum ministry. He belonged to a caste traditionally engaged in business. It would have been absurd if newspapers referred to his caste and concluded that business castes by tradition are expected to make profits and the officer was merely pursuing his caste occupation even as a civil servant.

Unfortunately, the media indulges in similar comments especially when officers in the reserved category are caught in the wrong. The UP IAS association's famous lists of most corrupt officers were never discriminatory. One of UP's former chief secretaries, who topped that list, belonged to a land-owning caste. Two Delhi Municipal Corporation officials who were raided in the last few days belonged to upper castes. The famous accused included a vice-chairman of DDA and a chairman of Central Board of Excise and Customs (CBEC).

The list of officers accused of corruption available on the CVC's website is also non-discriminatory. The spectrum of caste names on those lists, fortunately most of them decipherable, are inclusive of all castes. It is a different matter that the most common defence of officers from land-owning or ruling castes accused of corruption is they have no reason to be corrupt since they own hundred of acres and assets back home.

Can their rich or land-owning background absolve them of their crime when caught? Or does social and economic backwardness make others guilty even before they are accused of corruption? Since most of the officers who come through reservations hail from families which have meagre or no assets, should they be branded corrupt by default?

Unlike in the Centre, reputation of officers is vividly on display in the states. Men and women of honesty and integrity are admired and revered, sometimes feared. We have officers in the police, forests, income tax, customs, and railway services from scheduled castes and tribes, landed castes, business caste and upper castes with impeccable reputations for honesty and efficiency. In our caste-ravaged society, corruption is one institution that is casteless. Integrity has no social or economic origins; it is the individual's choice and conviction.

The writer is an IAS officer.


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