Views from Srinagar
SOMETIME ago, under the insistent goading of my family, I went for a job interview at a certain university in Kashmir. Whilst I did not want to appear at the interview, but winning or prevailing against family in Kashmir is a battle that one can’t really win. I played along and went for the interview. The interview besides being ill organized and badly timed turned out to be a very basic one. The interviewers were neither experts in the subject matter and their interviewing skills were pretty basic and amateurish. However, during the interview, a feeling crept up within me that appearances were deceptive and the whole exercise was a bit of a charade meant to bring someone else in. After the interview I went home.
Much to my intuition and feeling(s) about the interview and its results, I was not taken for the job in contention. I was not surprised and this piece of writing is not a matter of sour grapes; I am not writing it to indict anyone nor am I expressing anger or indignation over not having been taken. I am narrating my experience to illustrate a broader point: the noxious culture of sifarish( roughly defined as having connections who help a person to get a job or favor), nepotism and corruption in our society and systems.
First, a word on system(s) in Kashmir. Systems in Kashmir are broken and dilapidated ones. In these broken systems, unless a person knows people- bureaucrats, politicians or important persons- or , in worst cases, can pay monies, work does not really get done. Be it “ordinary” things that one needs- obtaining a tap connection, getting a license or permit, broken systems usually do not lend themselves to routine procedures. You’ve got to know someone to get these mundane works done. The matter gets more complex and complicated when jobs are involved. Both, at the lower end of the labor market and the higher end, people seek out people they either know or seek to pay monies to get themselves or their wards in, so to speak. Broken systems then generate rent seeking behavior, in the jargon of economics.
The victims of this insidious and noxious system are those who neither know people nor can cough up the monies to and get themselves in. Besides being fundamentally unjust and unfair, these insidious practices eat into the idea and nature of meritocracy in Kashmir. People with connections or money can almost do anything but those who don’t suffer. It also breeds and generates corruption in the ordinary sense of the word.
Say, person A paid monies to obtain a job. He or she views it as an investment for which a return must be generated. This return is sought through corrupt, and predatory behavior in office or a position of power. A vicious loop is generated wherein corruption feeds off corruption and renders the system more broken.
There then is neither equality of opportunity nor a level playing field. The consequences are not merely systemic but also psychological wherein people get implicated in corruption because of incentives to do so. The iniquities and inequities that these practice and perverse incentives breeds then has an invisible cost because the moral and ethical compass of people gets implicated in the insidious practice of corruption.
Can the system(s) become cleaner, fairer and more transparent? Maybe. The answer is contingent because these practices of nepotism and corruption have become entrenched and path dependent. It is not easy to roll back these noxious practices unless and until the whole system and the practices it has spawned get revamped. Tinkering at the edges through mandatory transparency or even regulation is not enough. What is needed is a change in consciousness and ethical compasses of both society and those whose decisions matter and are of import. This, in turn , can happen when society , as a whole, has a sense of proportion- especially about the end goals of society. As long as perverse goals and incentives motivate society, the means to achieve these ends will be ungainly and insalubrious. Will healthy and salubrious goals in matters of practical import ever form the gravamen of social goals and ends? And the evils of nepotism and corruption banish? Maybe or maybe not.
[The author can be reached at: [email protected]]