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In India, anti-corruption all the rage

Indians have had it with paying bribes, and they're speaking out on an anti-corruption website.

Janaagraha co-founder Swati Ramanathan says that the website’s approach may be cheeky but the intent is dead serious. “We have taken a fresh approach and set up this ‘mandi’ [marketplace], so we can uncover the market price of corruption.”

The initiative has been backed by a $3 million grant from the social investment firm Omidyar Foundation, started by eBay-founder Pierre Omidyar.

The site states that it aims to "take the lid off corruption," though its intent is not to target or hunt down corrupt individuals.

Still, the website has given pause to officials India-wide. In Bangalore last month, a residents’ collective in the Whitefield suburbs was successful in challenging the local government office to hand them property documents without the usual bribes. Triumphant residents declared that theirs a "historic victory.”

Local governments elsewhere have asked IPaidaBribe for pattern analyses so they can bring about systemic reforms.

Other Indians gleefully say that the mere threat of being recorded on IPaidaBribe is making bribe-taking officials shiver. “Until now, bribe-taking was very low-risk but now official’s social capital is at risk,” said Ramanathan.

In India, other anti-corruption campaigns are spreading. In Chennai, a nonprofit called 5th Pillar has printed and distributed thousands of "zero-rupee" bills that are being gifted to bribe-taking officials. “Such initiatives are just a start and if we keep at this, it will take 10 years to rid India of corruption,” said Bhanu Kumar, executive director of 5th Pillar.

In Ahmedabad, students at the Indian Institute of Management are setting up a toll-free “Corruption Ambulance,” a help line for citizens to issue complaints against corruption. The complaints will then be investigated by a special anti-corruption cell.

IPaidABribe is inspiring nonprofits overseas too. Foundations from South Africa and the United States have approached Janaagraha to launch similar initiatives. In the United States, the Sunlight Foundation, which works in digitizing government documents in various states, said it wants to heighten awareness about the subtle forms of corruption rampant in the United States.

Corruption has become a very large-scale operation in India involving people at the highest levels, said Samuel Paul, chairman of the Bangalore-based transparency nonprofit Public Affairs Center. “Reform is not enough, we need transformation.”

Despite the newfound public passion, campaigners say India cannot rid itself of corruption overnight.

The message has yet to trickle down to India’s villages. “We have to rid the rural India of the sense that nothing will happen without greasing a palm,” Bhanu Kumar of 5th Pillar said.