It made many cry, wrenched others in pain, and caused still others to shake their heads in disbelief when they heard about what happened to Anant Gupta. He was a truck driver who was beaten to death in the presence of bystanders in daytime, presumably by an assistant regional transport officer (ARTO) for refusing to pay the officer a bribe. The incident took place in September of 2011 at Chandauli, near the state border of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh.
Apparently, we have emptied a barrel full of morals and it has sunk to its bottom. It used to be that we would pay someone baksheesh for rendering high-quality service if we wanted to. But now the people with power, from government ministers down, are forcing us to pay bribes for the services they are obligated to provide. Also, it used to be that if we did not pay the bribe, our work would be delayed. But, now if we do not pay the bribe, bribe-demanders or their henchmen are killing us. Anant is not alone; many have been injured or lost their lives while fighting over unfair bribery.
What can be done? Many believe that we need a national lokpal, the equivalent of an ombudsman or commissioner, to prosecute and punish these corrupt individuals who are primarily government employees. Many others believe that we have sufficient laws to punish criminals, and therefore we do not need to create an additional layer of bureaucracy; rather what is needed is the will to put the bribe-takers behind bars.
Bribery is dishonesty. Can laws or guerdons or threats of punishment make us honest? No, says Swami Lokeshwarananda in his essay, “Poverty and Crime”:
Honesty is a way of life with them [honest people], as if they cannot help being honest. It is not that they are honest because they expect some reward or they are afraid that they may be punished; they are honest because it is in their nature to be honest, because they are so conditioned by their upbringing and habits that they cannot but be honest...An honest man is honest not for any extraneous consideration, but because he feels if he is not honest he is degrading himself, because he has a horror of anything that is not right and fair.
So those who are honest are honest for they know not what else they could be or should be. This practice of becoming an honest person starts at an early age and at home. The Swami asks, “How can a man acquire this kind of honesty?” He answers, “By training, by education, by self-discipline.”
And those who are corrupt are corrupt for they know not what else they could be or should be. So they kill for bribes and fight for kickbacks, all the while amassing a fortune. They end their journey on this earth with a shattered soul and the burden of having tormented others.