OrgWatch: 5th Pillar, Corruption Killer

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I was really intrigued by this story about 5th Pillar, an anti-corruption organization in India that issues zero rupee notes – entirely fake and valueless currency – in an effort to combat endemic bribery by public officials by shocking them into honesty.  The Economist explains:

The idea was dreamt up by an expatriate Indian physics professor from the University of Maryland who, travelling back home, found himself harassed by endless extortion demands. He gave the notes to the importuning officials as a polite way of saying no.

Apparently, it has actually gotten officials to back off of extortion.  The Economist article continues:

[The President of 5th Pillar] thinks the notes work because corrupt officials so rarely encounter resistance that they get scared when they do. And ordinary people are more willing to protest, since the notes have an organisation behind them and they do not feel on their own.

Simplicity is awesome.  Bribery in India, and throughout much of the developing world, is rampant.  But it is universally illegal.  Yet with such a low threat of getting caught, it becomes an everyday occurance for many.  I have encountered even the most ardent social justice crusaders that have merely written it off as a necessary evil – just the inevitable cost of doing business in places with questionable state apparatuses.

The zero rupee notes are a powerful repudiation of this sort of culture of acceptance, but they rely on a tremendous amount of courage from everyday citizens in places where protections from the state are not necessarily guaranteed.  I for one would be very fearful of confronting an official in such a manner.

So power to the brave citizens that whip out these notes.  And thanks to 5th pillar for letting them know that they are not alone in this fight.

[Image Source: 5th Pillar]

Posted on March 2nd 2010 in OrgWatch

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