Colonial Consciousness: The Logic of “India is Corrupt”

(A) Consider the following sequence of sentences:

1. All Indians are perfectly and fully moral.
2. All westerners are perfectly fully moral.
3. All Indians are immoral.
4. All westerners are immoral.

For sentences (1) and (2), all it takes is one instance of immorality to be proven wrong. Our proverbial municipal clerk would be immoral, and it would disprove the sentence (1). The same example could also confirm sentence (3); an instance of a moral act would also be a counter-example.

Now, when the municipal clerk is brought out as an instance, what exactly is its status? Is it intended as an example of (3) or as a counter example to (1)? Probably neither, because no one believes either (1) or (3). Consequently, it can illustrate another claim:

5. Some Indians are immoral.

This is undisputed; and we all take (5) to be true. In fact, we all believe

6. Some westerners are immoral.
Or, more generically,
7. There are immoral people in both the west and India.

So, the municipal clerk (and something analogous in the west) would be seen as a confirmation of the sentence (7). Since nobody is disputing this, and yet there is a dispute about the municipal clerk, the sentence (7) is not at issue either.

(B) Let us see whether the issue is about corruption. To begin with, let us simply say that “immorality=corruption”. But this time, let us begin with the following sentence:

8. Some Indians are corrupt.

No argument from any one. (To me, this is true as much as the claim: some westerners are corrupt, some Africans are corrupt, some Asians are corrupt and some American-Indians are corrupt.) The dispute about the municipal clerk cannot be with respect to the above either. How about

9. All Indians are corrupt.

Most of us disagree with this; most of us do not believe it to be true either. Therefore, the municipal clerk example is not seen by any of us as an example of sentence (9).

So, if the example of the municipal clerk, or the building contractor, is not an example of either (8) or (9), what else is it an example of or counter example to? Logically, there is only one option left:

10. No Indian is corrupt.

But every one of us, including me, believe sentence (8) to be true. From this it follows that (10) is false. To make it clear, I do not subscribe to sentence (10) at all.

So, we are left with a problem. If there is consensus among us about which of the above sentences are true, and which are false, why are we still disputing? Why do people feel obliged to come with instances like the municipal clerk or the building contractor? What is it an example of, what is it a counter-example to? What precisely are we disputing?

(C) There is also another common agreement because of the definitional equivalence. All acts of corruption and ethics are individual acts, i.e., individuals are either corrupt (immoral) or not corrupt (moral). So, we cannot be disagreeing about this either. So, why do people feel the urge to come with some or another instance, some argument or the other, and have a dispute with me? Where do we disagree?

(D) The next step is to break the definitional equivalence. Two of the issues about which there could be a dispute (of the possible four):

11. Some corrupt acts are moral.

12. Some non-corrupt acts are not immoral.

About the sentence (11). If you use your Indian psychology, you can think of any number of such situations. Imagine that the clerk is looking after abandoned children of prostitutes, helping in their education, keeping them away from the streets and crime. Imagine further too that he asks bribe only from those he thinks are capable of paying them and this money goes entirely to feed these children. Is your Indian psychology willing to call this clerk corrupt? Or even unethical?

But whatever it may be, the clerk and the building contractor could not be about this: I kept insisting that one is not defending that corruption is either morally good or bad, and that one needed to understand what it was before making a moral judgment either way.

So, what have we been discussing all along, and where is the dispute to be located?

(E) Here is my hypothesis. The discussion has been about the sentence “corruption is a social phenomenon” and what we understand this sentence means. We are at loggerheads about the scope of this sentence. I believe you do not quite appreciate the consequences of your interpretation. Let me approach my hypothesis by steps as well.

(F) Consider the following sentences:

13 There are more corrupt Indians than there are corrupt westerners.

14 There are more corrupt persons in India than elsewhere.

15 In terms of the percentage of corrupt to non-corrupt people, India ranks 73rd in the list of nations.

These are some possible ways of interpreting the claim that “India is a corrupt nation”. None of these are acceptable because no research has been done by anyone, anywhere in the world, at anytime that can provide us with any semblance of evidence that can justify such a statement.

Quite obviously, that claim that India is a corrupt nation (or that corruption is rampant in India) cannot refer to statements like above. Let us bring in the organization to which the municipal clerk belongs, in order to see whether it makes sense.

16 The Indian bureaucracy is corrupt.

17 In 72 other nations, bureaucracy is less corrupt.

18 The bureaucracy in some countries is more corrupt than bureaucracy elsewhere.

19 The manner in which the bureaucracy, the police, the justice system is corrupt in India is different from the way similar organisations are corrupt in the USA.

The sentence is (16) is true, but no implications follow from this. May be, that is because all bureaucracies are corrupt: because of Nehruvian Socialism in India, Fascism in Germany, Democracy in the US, etc. etc. In other words, the claim could be about the organization that the bureaucracy is. But, of course, it is not: no one means that only ‘the Indian bureaucracy is corrupt’, when they say that India is corrupt. Besides, no one has done a comparative research. So, we have no clue about what 17 through 19 say or do not say. Our dispute on this board, consequently, cannot be about any of the above sentences.

Suppose we add government to this list. Consider the following:

20 The Indian bureaucracy and the Indian government are corrupt.

21 The existence of corrupt organizations makes a culture or a nation corrupt.

22 If the society feeds corruption, such a society is corrupt.

Now, I have a feeling we are getting somewhere in the process of making sense of the statement that India is a corrupt country. But, let us take small steps here. Regarding (21) and (22) the following could be said: the existence of organized crime in all societies would make all societies corrupt. But no one says that America is a corrupt nation because the organized crime exists and grows in America. So, let us leave aside these two sentences for the time being and focus on (20).

23 The present incumbents in bureaucracy and government are corrupt.

This is not what is meant when one says that India is a corrupt country or that corruption is eating into the innards of the country. What one means is something stronger, more like,

24 The Indian regime is corrupt: not merely the present incumbents but the Indian system of bureaucracy and politics.

But (24) does not imply that the rule of law and democracy are corrupt. These institutions are not corrupt.

25 The way the Indians use these modern institutions is corrupt. Or, The Indian way is corrupt.

What is this Indian way? Some kinds of examples.

26 Such is the nature of corruption in India that anyone who has to do business in India is forced to play the same game.

27 One cannot do business in India without paying bribes.

In other words, such is the Indian way that even those who want to play fair and square are forced into playing the game of corruption. These business people themselves get corrupted because, much like the building contractor, they are forced to pay bribes in order to stay alive.

28 This means, that such is the pattern of interactions within the Indian society that anyone who wants to interact with them is forced to become corrupt himself. Or, pithily formulated,

29 One is taught to relate in a corrupt way to other people.

Both (29) and (30) imply the following:

30 One is not only corrupt; one corrupts the other as well. That is, ‘their’ (i.e. the Indian) way of interacting breeds corruption.

From this, it is a child’s play (almost) to go to the following conclusions:

31 Corruption continues to grow in India because more and more people are taught to become corrupt.

32 That is, more of more aspects of cultural life come under the scope of corruption.

33 The process of learning to be corrupt is part of the Indian culture and society.

34 A society or a culture teaches its members some ways of interacting with each other. If these ways are themselves corrupt, the society or nation is corrupt.

In other words, the commonsense claims (and the scholarly treatises) about ‘corruption in India’ involve the above statements. This is what I think most of you are defending without knowing it (or even explicitly rejecting it). Why do I say so?

(G) Because, now the examples of the clerk and the contractor begin to make sense. They are examples of the fact that India is corrupt. It does not mean the sentence (8) [i.e., some Indians are corrupt] but sentences 30 through 35. You feel that I am saying something else, something different from the commonsense claims you are putting forward. Therefore, you keep coming with examples and arguments that make no sense, have no point or purpose, at first sight. But they do make sense. If you realize that a ‘simple’ statement like that of the Transparency International has its own logic and takes you irresistibly towards one goal, you will also realize that your examples and arguments have but one purpose: to ‘show’ that India is corrupt in the sense we have just seen.

(H) When immorality increases in the West, people do not say the ‘west is an immoral culture’ because it encourages immorality. They bemoan this fact and say that the ‘fundamental’ western values (or Christian values) need to be revived. When immorality (say corruption) increases in India, people do not say the same and call for a revival of Indian values. No, they say that the Indian culture and society are corrupt. Why? Because the values that the Indian society embody are not considered moral.

(I) In other words, the discussions on this board illustrate the colonial consciousness I refer to in the article. Even when we want to, it is not that simple to break out of this consciousness. Even when we talk about our own experiences in India, we remain within the ambit of colonized consciousness. Because, “Colonialism”, as I have repeated a number of times already, “is about denying the colonized peoples and cultures their own experiences; of making them aliens to themselves; of actively preventing any description of their own experiences except in terms defined by the colonizers.”

(J) I am, of course, aware that I have sketched out but a path in the above paragraphs. This is not the only path, but one I found to be the simplest to show the logic involved in the statement that ‘India is corrupt’. I say your discussions suggest that you are merely following the logic of this statement. By saying this, I might alienate some of you. If that comes to pass, so be it. As I have said in another post, I can only help you think, I cannot convert you. You need to put in the effort and all I can provide are some tips.

Notes:

I do wish sometimes that people read this post carefully before expressing agreements or disagreements. Just before the sentence (8), I postulated a definitional equivalence between immorality and corruption. In that case, ‘some Indians are immoral’ becomes equivalent to ‘some Indians are corrupt’. As such, there can be no scare quotes in sentence (8). On the other hand, the scare quotes will reappear when one suggests that Indians are ‘corrupt’ in the sense in which one proclaims that ‘India is a corrupt nation’. Because, here the notion of ‘corruption’ carries the meaning I have dealt with in sentence (31) to (34).

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