This is a dilemma I faced just before coming to Business school in the US. For sake of context, I lived in Mumbai, India before school and this is where my story took place.
Not being funded by a scholarship for school, I applied for a bank loan to cover the first year tuition bill. My second year will be funded by my father – that’s how we decided it will be since the Indian government stipulates a maximum loan amount that may be granted and that would only cover my first year fee. Being an international student, with no scholarship it’s easy to imagine the monetary implications of attending school. I knew I really needed that loan for the first year. We applied to the State bank of India for a loan and began the extremely tedious and bureaucratic process of getting out papers together, making a million trips between the bank, home and other offices. To put time in perspective, we began this process 3 months before I was to start school.
It was a month before we had all the paperwork they needed – as a collateral for the loan, it wasn’t enough that we had enough cash, securities and other investments to more than cover the loan, they needed a property mortgage. We then got all the papers required to mortgage the house we lived in as collateral – there was only one problem. From when we bought the house to when we moved in, the builder re-numbered all the houses and consequently even though our sale deed said we lived in apartment 502, we actually lived in 503. This was of course, an issue with the bank since they go through a rigorous validation process and this wasn’t acceptable.
We did everything else we could: register for a new sale deed, get a notarized letter from a lawyer stating that we have applied for a new deed and that this was the fault of the builder, and is being rectified – to no avail. The bank loan from SBI fell through. We approached a few other banks to the same result – no loan until this was sorted out.
India is a bureaucratic society and any legal paperwork takes months, years to process. As the clock was ticking and I was a month away from moving to school and still no loan, one last option presented itself to us – pay a bribe of 75,000 Rs. And get the sale deed accelerated in time to apply and be approved for the loan.
While this is an easy solution to many India – which explains the heart of the deep rooted corruption, it was no easy decision for us. My father served the Indian Navy for 24 years, and is a man of great honor and respect. He holds himself accountable to higher standards of ethics than Indian society dictates. Being his daughter, I live by his principles as well. This was a real quandary. Just to quantify the magnitude – the loan would cover 2,000,000 Rs. Worth of my first year fees while my father would pay the second year AS WELL AS my living expenses for the first year. Its not a small sum of money – not getting the loan would mean borrowing more than 5Million Rs. from my dad at an age where he needs to retire and lead a stress free life. That was unacceptable to me. On the other hand, paying a bribe was letting down myself in my own standards, wasting hard earned money, supporting corruption and giving that man more incentive to continue doing so AND hating the society even more. That was also unacceptable to me.
Meanwhile, the clock was ticking. We now had about 3 weeks – JUST enough time to make it work. A few days later, and the loan would not be approved in time. At the time, all the options I was weighing were looking gloomy – I had no family in the US, no one to co-sign a US loan, taking 5Million rupees from my dad was not a solution either.
This was an ethical personal dilemma at its very excruciating best. I could see my father torn between doing the right thing and what wasn’t. Funnily enough, talking to friends and family about this evoked the same reaction “Why is this issue? Of course you need to pay him, and get it done with – everyone does it. No work gets done around here if you don’t pay”. And we did.
I regret that that’s the route we had to go – I could see my dad and I both regretting the fact that we let our moral compass waver, we oiled the squeaky wheel of corruption and did what we both abhor – sway with the direction society swayed in.
It’s easy to be judgmental about being good – and to assume that bad people do bad things. Until then, I assumed people who gave bribes are most definitely people who took them too. Until I did it. I assumed society is spoiled by illiterate, criminals, crooks, corrupt politicians or people who simply dint know better – but that’s not the case either. Bad people aren't the only ones making bad decisions... clearly.