Recent protests in India have brought attention to a serious issue that threatens the country’s potential for development – the problem of corruption. Corruption is a deeply rooted issue that penetrates all levels of government and directly affects a great number of people in India. On a large scale, there are reports of individuals and companies illegally benefitting from large government-funded projects, allocation of resources, and the illegal seizure of land. Down at the individual level, many people are required to pay bribes to access services promised to them by the government.
Since corruption of this kind is nothing new to India, why has it recently brought about such a strong reaction from the people? It has been suggested that the rising inequality that can be seen throughout the country is partially responsible for triggering the recent protests. As India sees vast improvements in economic growth and prosperity, the government has worked to develop a wide range of anti-poverty programs to ensure that the financial success of the country is felt by everyone. These programs cost billions of dollars and far surpass the efforts of other Asian countries. However, many of the programs have little chance of reaching those most in need, largely because of problems with corruption.
Corruption creates difficulties among many of the families and communities working with Save A Family Plan, as I discovered during my stay in India last year. In one small fishing village that I visited in Tamil Nadu near the city of Tuticorin, we met with several families headed by widows who had lost their husbands at sea. Although all widows living below the poverty line are entitled to a small monthly widow’s pension through the Indian government, only one of the women we met with was receiving it. We learned that all of them had been turned away by the local government official, except the one who was able to pay a bribe of Rs. 4000 (about $100) to have him accept her application. The conditions that all of these families lived in were appalling and as someone from outside, I found it shocking that such a needless barrier could stand in the way of them receiving the assistance that they needed so desperately.
The problem of corruption is a major obstacle to India’s development and to achieving justice for the poor. With more than 45 years of experience working in India, Save A Family Plan understands the seriousness of this problem and designs programs that work to challenge corruption at a grassroots level. All families and communities involved undergo awareness training to learn about their rights and what they should expect from the government. They gain experience organizing themselves through their participation in sanghams (self-help groups) and have the chance to discuss the problems that they are facing. By joining together, communities can work to challenge corruption within their local government and ensure that everyone can receive government services in a fair and honest way. SAFP works to support these initiatives and promote a society where economic development is paired with justice and good governance for everyone.
By Cassandra Griffin
Save A Family Plan Staff