So last night we were with a friend driving to an Italian restaurant for dinner. She makes an illegal U-turn, and we get pulled over by the cops. Our friend says, "oh great, here we go. Watch and learn."
Friend: "Sorry Sahib. I wasn't paying attention."
Friend: "There were so many cars, Sahib, I got confused for a moment. It won't happen again."
Friend: "My brother, please let me go. I wont make the mistake again."
Cop: "Madam, please come outside and bring your license."
Friend: "Sahib, I don't have much time, can't we just be done now. Lets just finish the bill now."
Cop: "Madam, please come."
Our friend steps out of the car, walks over to a shack filled with cops. In this city, the cops set up a special booth on the side of a given roundabout. A cop stands outside and points at drivers, indicating they need to pull over. The "processing center" is where a few other cops formalize the tickets, or gather whiskey money, depending on the time of month.
Friend returns to the car a few minutes later. "Okay, just waiting for my change. All I had was a 500 note."
Cop taps on my window. I roll down the window.
Cop: "Sir, please remember to have your seat belt fastened at all times."
Me: "But I do have my seat belt on."
Cop, annoyed at my ignorance, with closed fist, reaches into the car and plops some notes onto the seat, then says, "yes, please remember safety at all times." He walks off.
We drive away. My friend starts laughing, "my change please. Gosh I wish I would have had a 100 note, would have saved me 100 rupees. I had to bargain down to 200 for a couple minutes. Its tough, you know, they see this huge car, and the rate quadruples."
I ask, "so what are the rates?"
Friend: "10 for a bike, 20 for a rickshaw, 50 for a scooter, 100 for a nice motorcycle or tiny car, 200 for a big car."
I say, "And what if you actually paid the ticket?"
Friend: "300. But I have to go across town to pay the ticket. Would have taken me an hour."
Me: "And why all the sneakiness?"
Friend: "Well they are really careful since a lot of journalists set up anti-corruption sting operations, with mobile phone videos and the like. Technically, with this entire transaction, we have no idea if we paid a bribe, or a reduced ticket on the spot. And also, whenever they are fund raising for the police department, there is nothing you can do, you have to pay the ticket. That's when their superior officers are present and watching."
Me: "And by your guess, what percentage of folks pay the bribe?"
Friend: "Maybe 1 in a hundred does not."
And on a final note, if you enjoyed this post, you should check out these recent NPR podcasts on corruption in India: