CNN IBN contacted me a few weeks ago asking about corruption related stories from Varanasi. They said that they have a show called citizen journalist in which the people themselves become the journalist and expose the crime. I already knew about this program as it is very popular in India and decided to give them some stories. Actually they had contacted me after reading my blog so they had already read a few corruption stories that I had written on my blog. I had also been noticing corruption on ever level just like another Indian citizen and now I had a platform to talk about it.
Anyways, I gave them total of four stories- one about corruption in MNREGA, corruption in drinking water supply system in Varanasi, corruption in sewage treatment plants, encroachment over old and sacred ponds of Varanasi and scam in ticketing at Sarnath. They asked me to find someone who was personally affected by these corruptions and would like to come on camera and talk about it. I contacted Lok Samiti to find someone who had faced any kind of corruption in MNREGA. I knew about a social worker named Shanti Lal Jain who has worked a lot on Ganga and contacted him to talk about corruption in sewage treatment plants.
I had recently read a magazine which talked about a retired engineer who used his right to information act to ask government about the present condition of ponds in Varanasi and High Court of Uttar Pradesh asking Varanasi city administration to restore all the ponds that were illegally captured after 1957. I contacted this gentleman and he also agreed on telling the story to CNN IBN. Now it was turn of scam in ticketing at Sarnath which I had personally noticed several times, actually every time I went to Sarnath ever since I got my tourist guide license.
The scam in Sarnath was that the ticket collectors at the entrance of the excavation site would keep the whole ticket with themselves and resell it. Whereas by law they are supposed to tear off the ticket into two parts, keep one part with themselves and give one part back to the tourists. This scam was going on in Sarnath with the support of government employees and tourist guides as well. If tourist guides support them then they also get a cut. I was also offered the same service several times but I never supported them as I always believe in this Hindi saying- खाना है तो हांथी का लीद खाओ, गधे का नहीं (if you want to eat the shit then eat the shit of an elephant better than the shit of a donkey :))
The area of my work is full of such opportunities where I can get commission all the time when I feel better asking for money rather than bringing my guests to shop so that I get some money. Anyways, I had always thought to do something about stopping this corruption and now I had a chance. But I was a little bit worried about about my safety. I called my brother who is also an Italian interpreter and works in tourism industry to have his advice and he was like go and fuck those people.
So I agreed to work on this story with CNN IBN. In order to prepare for the story CNN IBN asked me collect some evidence of the corruption. I went to Sarnath with my friend Babu and we filmed the ticket collector taking the tickets and keeping them direct in a sack. Finally the crew arrived in Varanasi and at first they worked on other stories. All of the stories were successful and affective. The woman who had faced corruption in the MNREGA got her salary and Varanasi administration started working on the ponds.
I needed a few foreign volunteers to act like my guests. I advertised on couchsurfing and a few people wrote me also but finally I ended up choosing a British couple staying at my guesthouse. We went together to Sarnath on the filming day and first they filmed me working, talking with people, doing things… Finally they went close to the entrance and sat about 30-40 miters away and filmed people coming inside, handing over the ticket to the ticket collector and ticket collector keeping the whole ticket in the sack.
After they had enough evidence we went for lunch. I was not enjoying lunch at all as I was really tense about what was going to happen next. I was mostly worried about ASI taking some action against me. They could easily cancel my license by saying that I was found scratching the monument or something. I knew that the local officers would not be happy with myself after exposing the crime. Finally lunch was finished and I was asked to come on camera and explain the crime by standing right next to the entrance gate.
As the big camera appeared and I was holding the mic, so many people came to us. I was surrounded by at least 50 people who were trying to understand what I was talking about. Luckily the show was in English hence not many people understood what I talking about. At first they asked me to explain the corruption and then we bought a ticket and gave it to one of the volunteers and asked her to go inside, give the ticket to the ticket collector and see what happens.
Obviously the ticket collector took the ticket and kept it right away in the sack and this was the moment when we entered in with the camera. As the ticket collector saw us he immediately teared off the ticket, went to our volunteer to return half portion of the ticket. We asked him why did not he tear off the ticket right away and then ran away from there. Now there was no government employee at the entrance so we checked the sack and found more than 500 fresh tickets which were all going to resold.
We were filming all this and suddenly one government employee who was posted at the ticket counter came. We asked him how come all these tickets were not teared off and he had this really funny excuse that all the Sri Lankan tourists who come to Sarnath just throw the tickets on the street so they collect it and finally tear them off in the evening time after the monument is closed which was completely false because I had personally seen them taking the tickets out of sack and bringing them back to the ticket counter so that they could resell it.
After he could not answer us, he asked us to come inside his office where he had this another funny excuse that the young couples who come to Sarnath everyday throw the tickets on the street because they do not want to be caught at home that they went to Sarnath. I was kind of laughing after hearing all these funny excuses. We came back to the entrance gate to talk with a few visitors and suddenly this lady showed up asking what was going on. She asked us to ask her questions as she was also an employee of ASI who was posted at the museum.
We asked her if she was aware of the scam and she was like yes, I have seen it hundreds of times. We were shocked but it was really good that she admitted it. She also said that tickets are resold and each and every government employee working at the excavation site is involved. Finally we went to the officer in-charge of Sarnath but he also ran away as he saw us. Story was completed and I was feeling so proud to have done it. I was really happy with the public support.
When we were filming at the entrance gate, we were surrounded by 100s of people who shouting fuck these corrupt people, don’t leave them…I think this support gave me real power and energy that I was able to expose the crime. The next morning all of the news papers reported this news but none of them talked about me or CNN IBN. Although they said that the officer in-charge of Sarnath, who had ran away after seeing us, said that he was not aware of such corruption and would take action against the people involved in it.
I know it very well that he was also part of the corruption and had intentionally given this news to media so that people think that he did not know about this corruption. I asked CNN IBN to contact the regional office of ASI in Patna and head office in New Delhi and ask them to take some action. I hope that ASI will take some action and now I also feel much secured because of that lady officer of ASI who had admitted that this corruption of reselling of tickets was going on in Sarnath. Here is the link of the show on CNN IBN website-