Wednesday, April 20, 2011


For this project we examine bribery in India, and its perception, or lack thereof, as a deviant act. Throughout our research we find that even though the act of bribery is unlawful, that it is  viewed as a socially acceptable and expected action in India and how not engaging in bribery would considered by many to be deviating from the norm. (To read more on deviance) We interviewed a married couple, Michael and Jean, who both lived in India until moving to America in 1992 but had widely differing experiences and beliefs on bribery and its place in Indian society. We also did extensive research on the overall conditions of bribery in India in order to better ascertain the context in which these people lived and how it relates to the Indian viewpoint on bribery as a whole. We then analyzed the information through Control Theory and Differential Association to evaluate the tendency of Indians to conform to the socially accepted act of bribing. We finished with a section where we hope you, the reader, would comment on our findings and share your own experiences. (Have You Experienced Bribery, Is Bribery a Bad Thing, Bribery in America)


Travis Hirschi’s Control Theory

Hirschi theorized that the tendency to conform comes from four types of social controls. The first social control is attachment, meaning that people with strong relationships with family, friends, and others in their community are more likely to conform to their social conventions while people with weaker attachments are freer to engage in deviance. The second social control is commitment, meaning that the greater a person’s commitments to legitimate opportunities in their society and economy, the greater the advantages of conformity are to them. Involvement is the third social control, meaning that the more involved in legitimate activities a person is, the less likely they are to engage in deviant acts. The final social control outlined by Hirschi is belief, meaning that the stronger a person’s respect for societal authority figures and belief in conventional morality, the more likely they are to conform to societal beliefs. (Orcutt)

Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association Theory

Differential Association Theory is closely related to Hirschi’s idea of attachment. Sutherland theorized that a person’s tendency toward conformity or deviance depends on that person’s contact with other people who are accepting or rejecting that kind of behavior. This essentially means that if someone is constantly surrounded by others who engage in socially acceptable behavior and abide by laws, then that person is likely to conform, but if the same person is surrounded by others who deviate from societal norms, then that person would be likely to deviate. (Geis)

Background Context

The Criminal Law Convention on Corruption defined bribery as “promising, offering or giving by any person, directly or indirectly, of any undue advantage [to any public official], for himself or herself or for anyone else, for him or her to act to refrain from acting in the exercise of his or her functions.” (Strasbourg)

But as the article says, “Do the payments produce harmful results? If not the underlying policy environment should be reformed, perhaps by legalizing payments.” (Rose-Ackerman)While bribery is viewed as wrong in the American conscience, it is common in India, so common in fact that it has come to be expected.

A 2005 New York Times article was titled “Letter from India: Bribery so common, it’s a laughing matter” (Gentleman) and detailed an incident in which 11 Indian Parliamentary members were found taking payment for asking questions in parliament. Rather than becoming outraged, most people just laughed at the situation. The article went on to describe how if the Indian public was really surprised, “it was less at the politicians’ readiness to sell themselves than at the low prices they were demanding for their services – as little as $200 a question.” (Gentleman)

When this sort of payment is so widespread, citizens simply become used to it. A Transparency International survey published the same month stated that 98 percent of the Indian population believes corruption is prevalent throughout politics. (Rose-Ackerman)While nearly all of the population doubts the honesty of its politics, high government is not the only place where bribery has taken hold.

In an Enterprise survey of Indian business firms, 47.9% of firms expected to pay informal payment to public officials to get things done, 52.45% of firms expected to give gifts to get an operating license, 52.32% of firms expected to give gifts in meeting with tax officials, and 23.79% of firms expected to give gifts to secure a government contract. As evidenced by this survey, the Indian reaction to bribery is not simply a glazing of their eyes in response to the actions of those far away but engaging with a system that requires bribery or “informal payment” to get things done. (Corruption)

An NPR story about the ordinary nature of low level bribes detailed the process one man, Gagan Singh, went through in starting his own business. In order to attain the required licenses without hassle, Gagan was forced to bribe a local official and 10 to 15 other people, and while at first he questioned this system, he realized that “every system in India works on this note. You cannot run away.” (Kestenbaum) In India, the very system of interaction with local officials, policemen, and other authority figures is based around bribery, so much so that while it is officially legal, nearly everyone engages in it. To get out of jail, one bribes a judge. To evade licensing hassles, one bribes a local official. Michael himself stated that in India, bribery was simply “payment” for a job to be done efficiently, and everyone needed to be paid. (Interview 9:10)

In an environment where corruption is such an accepted fact, those who refrain from engaging in bribery are the deviant ones.

Attachment and Differential Association

In Hirschi’s Control Theory, strong attachments to family members, friends, and others make one more likely to conform while weaker attachments leaves one freer to engage in deviance. (Orcutt) Both Michael and Jean talked during their interviews about how their parents influenced their choices around bribery. Both of them also talked about how their family of three daughters played a role later on. Michael talked a lot about how running his business successfully was important for him and his family’s well being. (Interview 17:40) To deviate from what he thought was the standard way of life could end up harming his family.

As a result, and in concurrence with Control Theory, both had strong attachments to those around them and conformed to the socially accepted mode of doing things. This pushed them towards bribing officials and others, by trying to develop success for themselves and the people close to them. What attachment fails to explain is that while both Michael and Jean had strong attachments to family members and others, the two had very differing views on bribery and participated in it according to those views. Differential Association goes one step further to explain this.

Differential Association states that a person’s tendency toward conformity or deviance depends on that person’s contact with other people who are accepting and rejecting that kind of behavior. While attachment simply states that if one has attachments, they will conform, differential association makes the distinction that the views of those people that a person are attached to influence their conformity or deviance.

Jean explained that from an early age, her mother’s motto was never to bribe anyone and considered it against her religion. (Interview 36:06) Even when it would have been easier, her mother refused to bribe and as a consequence was forced to put in much more effort and time than those who simply bribed. As a result, Jean felt that “bribery was always strange” for her. It wasn’t until Michael came into her life that she had a strong attachment to a person that looked at bribery as a norm. (Interview 40:53) She explained later on that bribery wasn’t wrong, it was expected. You couldn’t do anything without some bribing, (Interview 45:50) though it was apparent that the way she viewed bribing had been heavily influenced by her mother and that she still had conflicted feelings on the matter. While Michael described bribery as “payment”, Jean stated bluntly that it is called bribery, and goes by no other name. (Interview 40:35) Michael, on the other hand, had no such person in his life to preach the wrongs of bribery, and as a result conformed, viewing bribery as “just a part of the payment system.” (Video 33:31)


Control Theory says that the greater a person’s commitment to a legitimate opportunity, the greater the advantages of conformity. This is basically a person’s ability to weight the costs of deviant behavior. (Orcutt) One of the major questions in the case of India, however, is whether or not bribery can be part of a legitimate opportunity. In most of the Western world, bribery would not be seen as legitimate, but since it is so overwhelmingly prevalent and an essential part of the system in India, to conform would be to bribe while to deviate would be not to do so. (Bribery Section)

Michael, being the head of a successful company, looked at bribery as a legitimate function of everyday business. (Interview 8:01) For his company, Michael once had Jean bribe an official so that they would be allowed to have extra electricity. (Interview 38:40) In another incident, Michael described how some of his workers formed a union and protested but he was able to bribe the head of the movement with a retirement plan in order to end the squabble. (Interview 8:01) Both of these are examples of how Michael conformed in order to fulfill his commitment to a legitimate opportunity, in this case his business and in turn his family.   

In one instance, however, Michael did not hold true to his commitment to the bribery system. In order to make essential purchases for his company, Michael had needed foreign currency, but the Indian government forbids foreign currency to be transported into or out of the country except in very small quantities. He was caught with the illegal currency and thrown into jail for treasonous activity. The authorities holding him asked for a $20,000 bribe in order to be released, and Michael agreed. After his release he didn’t pay the bribe and instead fled while the cops raided his house and factories. Eventually he was sent to jail again and in the end was forced to pay a substantially higher sum for his release. In this incident, because Michael deviated from his normal commitments to the bribery system, that system worked against him and inevitably led to greater consequences.    


Involvement in Control Theory means that extensive involvement in legitimate activities will inhibit deviance while limited involvement will foster deviance. Those who are heavily engaged in accepted activities are less likely than those who have much free time to become deviant. (Orcutt)

Spending most of his time as a businessman, father, and husband in India, Michael was thoroughly busy with his legitimate roles. Likewise, Jean was also occupied with her legitimate roles and had no reason to deviate. Unlike those with ample free time, both Jean and Michael were heavily engaged and had no real reason to fight the system. Though Jean was less comfortable with bribing than Michael, having never witnessed a bribe until with being pulled over by a cop with Michael, she admitted that she had bribed and that bribery is always illegal but India's system functioned with it. There is dual money, white money and black money. White money was very little, black money was what helped people to raise their family. (Interview 47:02) Undoubtedly, bribing aided her and others raise their own families, fulfilling their involvement to the socially accepted roles given them. 


Belief simply means that the stronger a person’s belief in conventional morality, the more likely they are to conform to social norms. Likewise to other parts of Hirschi’s theory, bribery would seem opposite of conventional morality, while in India it is not seen as wrong for the most part because of its widespread nature and place in the function of things. (Orcutt)

Michael viewed the system itself as depending on bribery and observed that most civil servants were underpaid and had to be bribed to get a fair wage, saying "If you don't pay a person his value, he is going to take it one way or another" (Interview 33:13) In this way, he found that to not bribe someone would be the immoral act as people depended on bribes for their livelihood. In an Indian context, this is the conventional morality and Michael would be conforming. He went on to compare the system of bribery in India to the more understated system of corruption in America, favoring the Indian system because at least there the motive is survival while in America it is only greed. 

Jean, while having participated in bribery, believed differently. Contrary to the conventional Indian viewpoint, she deviated from normal beliefs, viewing bribery not as something essential to the system but tolerated by it. Because of this difference in views, she was more hesitant to engage in bribery and likely would have been exposed to far fewer acts of bribery if not for experiences with her husband. Ironically, Jean’s view on bribery would be conventional in an American setting, but given her Indian surroundings, her actions and beliefs were deviant.