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The Zero Rupee Note

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It’s a bribe you can be proud of giving

The next time a traffic cop asks for ‘chai paani’, give him the bribe without any moral compunctions whatsoever. Fish out a zero rupee note from your wallet—it’s the newest campaign on the block against corruption.

The brainchild of Vijay Anand, co-founder of a Chennai-based non-profit advocacy group called Fifth Pillar, the Zero Rupee Note campaign is built around Gandhigiri. “We don’t believe in confrontation or argument. This note is our weapon of non-cooperation,” he says.

The campaign first started in Chennai in 2007. It spread to other parts of Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. Anand says he began to get calls from Delhi, Uttar Pradesh and Maharashtra. “We are now printing the notes in various regional languages so that they can be used across the country,” he says.

The note comes with a pledge—‘I promise neither to accept nor give bribes.’ “It is very rare that a direct demand for a bribe is made. Usually people use code words and euphemisms,” says Anand. “In such a case, an individual is encouraged to hand over the note and say, ‘I would rather wait for my papers for two more months than pay you a bribe. Please accept this Zero Rupee Note; you too will need it some day when you desperately need a loan to send your child to college or when you are building a house and are faced with corrupt officials.’” The public admonishment is meant to embarrass officials. 

Anand says he often gets letters about people’s experiences. One of the most memorable was the story of a 70-year-old woman who wanted to send her granddaughter to college. “The lady made her way to the bank for a loan, where she was asked for collateral security. She then went to the land registrar’s office to get her land title to offer it as collateral. The official asked her for a bribe of Rs 7,000,” says Anand.

She didn’t have the money and sold a piece of jewellery, but it still didn’t add up to Rs 7,000. “Meanwhile, she got to know about the Zero Rupee Note and offered it to the official. He was so ashamed of being ratted out in front of his colleagues that he got the work done in 45 minutes,” he says.

Anand says the aim of the note is also to educate people. “Once you stand up to corruption, you begin to learn more about legal procedures and are no longer taken for a ride.”