Fifth Pillar, an Indian charity that confronts corrupt officials, has issued a zero banknote as a way to protest ongoing bribery and extortion in the country.
The notes have no value, but look identical to Indian banknotes and carry the slogans “Eliminate corruption at all levels” and the pledge “I promise to neither accept nor give bribe.”
“The note is a way for any human being to say no to corruption without the fear of facing an encounter with persons in authority,” the charity said in a statement.
Indian citizens are often faced with corruption when they are forced to pay cash bribes for everyday tasks like registering cars or homes, and getting Internet connections hooked up.
Fifth Pillar claims £3 billion is paid each year in bribes in India, but insiders believe the figure is considerably higher, and that several leading politicians have become billionaires through corruption.
The idea for the zero banknote came from an Indian physics professor at the University of Maryland in the US who says he “was sickened by the corruption he witnessed in India and wanted to give people the means to protest against the bribes they were expected to pay. “
Fifth Pillar’s president Vijay Anand took up the professor’s idea of a banknote which had no value, producing 25,000 notes initially, their popularity leading to the production of one million more notes. And the simple protest is catching on.
The World Bank blog tells the story of an elderly woman who was being bribed to obtain documentation of a land title and instead handed the Revenue Department official one of Fifth Pillar’s zero banknotes. “Remarkably, the official stood up from his seat, offered her a chair, offered her tea and gave her the title she had been seeking for the last year and a half to obtain without success,” the blog reports.
Though commonplace, bribery is a crime that is punishable with jail time in India. The World Bank says these zero banknotes are effectively making a strong statement condemning bribery. By providing the support of an organization, Fifth Pillar has given citizens the courage to stand up and no longer be afraid of the criminal practices.
“For people to speak up against corruption that has become institutionalized within society, they must know that there are others who are just as fed up and frustrated with the system,” says the World Bank on their blog. Once they realize that they are not alone, they also realize that this battle is not unbeatable. Then, a path opens up—a path that can pave the way for relatively simple ideas like the zero rupee notes to turn into a powerful social statement against petty corruption.”