Two women are taking on bribery in India through their online platform, Bribe-Hackers
With Bribe-Hackers, they hope to change the culture around interacting with government officials through education and exposure.
Bribes are a way of life in India, where 54% of residents reported in 2009 that they had paid bribes in the past year. No one is immune. While getting ready for an anti-corruption conference in Brazil, former law student Sreerupa Chowdhury found herself waiting an unnervingly long time for her visa. After the World Bank, a sponsor of the anti-corruption forum, contacted local authorities, her visa was delivered within a day. Presumably the holdup was because officials were waiting for a bribe.
Chowdhury is the co-founder of Bribe-Hackers, a new Calcutta-based organization that just received $20,000 from the World Justice Project’s Roderick B. Mathews Opportunity Fund competition to combat bribery in India. She has long been passionate about bribery in her country, where she says “nothing gets done without a bribe.” So Chowdhury and fellow law school graduate Monalisa Saha launched Bribe-Hackers—an online platform for people to both report bribes to the general public and take action against the offending parties.
There is a disconnect between local, corrupt officials and higher-level government officials who often campaign on promises to end bribery. Bribe-Hackers will appeal to those higher-level officials who want to save face. “Our understanding is that the government is keen to improve its own image,” says Chowdhury.
Saha and Chowdhury envision the Bribe-Hackers website as a place where people can simply report their stories of bribery—say, an instance of paying an extra fee for a driver’s license—or go a step further and ask the Bribe-Hackers staff to pursue justice. The staff won’t just take the complaint to the authorities; they’ll also offer up details about where it has been taken, how the proceedings are going, and all the possible outcomes. If an official is found guilty, Bribe-Hackers will highlight the case on the website.
The publicity piece is integral to ensuring the safety of complainants, who could be in danger from threatened authorities. “If a person is harassed by the corrupt official, we will highlight that in the media. We’re constantly trying to protect the person by giving a lot of publicity to the case,” says Saha. Bribe-Hackers is also thinking about working with the police to create some sort of witness protection-like agreement for bribe reporters.