A Patient Showed Me How Badly Corruption Afflicts India

It was a regular day in my government dispensary attached to a mofussil town when a patient walked in through the door. She was about 65 years old female and was accompanied by her husband. Both looked cheerful and friendly. In an area where violence against doctors is no rare occurrence, such patients actually make your day. She took the chair next to me after a heartfelt greeting and mumbled her complaints in Marathi, "Doctor, ashaktapana vatat aahe (I'm feeling weak)." I examined her thoroughly and before I could go on to prescribe any treatment, her husband spoke out with conviction, "Doctor, saline lava (please infuse saline)!"

We're not far from seeing the day when the very perception of bribery as unacceptable will start to fade.

You can imagine what it feels like to field such requests when you are a qualified medical practitioner. There were no indications that the patient needed fluid infusion and I tried to explain this in clear terms. Even though the patient seemed content with my assurances, her husband emanated an air of disbelief. As she walked out of my cabin, her husband stayed back and took the chair beside me. In a servile fashion, he tried to slide a couple of hundred rupees notes into my pocket and said, "Doctor, chaha-paani sathi theva. Pan saline laava (keep the money. But please infuse saline)."

It's common these days for people to take their health into their own hands. While those in cities often take recourse to Google and come up with their own prescriptions (which they then shove on to their doctors), patients in rural areas have their own set of convictions. For many of them, a dispensary is little different from a grocer's shop; a place where you can shop for what you need. For many, a visit to a doctor isn't complete until they're given an injection, infused with glucose, and told to carry home a dozen varicoloured medicines and bottles. As a doctor, when you try to turn them down for their own safety, some thrash around on the floor pestering you for the medicines they want. If the patient is not so amiable, you may even be assaulted. No doubt, our medical stores have no other option than to turn into grocery stores themselves.

You may feel amused when you think of such an individual episode, but I beg you to imagine how grim the bigger picture can be. Not only are people playing with their own health, resources are further wasted in a country that is yet to see an optimal healthcare budget. Not to mention that it fosters unethical practices among healthcare providers. But what I'm greatly dismayed at is the extent to which the practice of corruption has penetrated even in the far-flung corners of the country. Bribery is no longer just a simple, half-hearted act of caving in to an unfair demand for money—it has become an open and wilful way of trying to get through the bushes swiftly.

There are certain rigid perceptions attached to corruption. One is that corruption is an underhand, condemnable practice which brings disgrace when let into the open, and therefore, we hardly see anyone flaunting that they've given/received a bribe. We, therefore, tend to talk of the payer of the bribe as an unfortunate, unwilling victim; he one on the receiving end attracts our vituperation. However, such stereotypes seem to be breaking down in recent times. We are losing people to point our fingers at, in a negative sense. Many are pushing bribes across the table even when nothing of the sort has been asked for. A by-product is that nearly every professional is being painted with the same dirty brush— obliterating even the clean, honest ones.

Nearly every professional is being painted with the same dirty brush— obliterating even the clean, honest ones.

History testifies that many immoral yet tempting practices catch on pretty well and fast. Corruption becoming an openly mutual agreement India is one such example, and it does not bode well for our country. What maintains order in a society is rules and laws, and what erects those laws are the prevalent virtues and sentiments. What we're witnessing today is a gradual decay in such sentiments. If this continues, we're not far from seeing the day when the very perception of bribery as unacceptable will start to fade. Its status as a malpractice will be challenged and clamours for legalizing bribery (under a more attractive name, though) will start to arise, much as was done in the case of prostitution. The normalization of corruption, the familiarity of it, is gradually leading us into a darker future—and no one, at either the giving or the receiving end will be left unscathed of its repercussions.

Addressing these issues means working on both legal and psychological planes. The latter is likely to be more challenging than the former.

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