Realising what man could achieve if corruption was to be completely eliminated from our day-to-day lives, Vijay Anand founded the 5th Pillar back in 2006 – an NGO with the sole purpose of fighting corruption in the country. Beyond the four pillars of democracy (legislature, executive, judiciary and press), the 5th Pillar was formed for the citizens hoping and working towards a better society and a corruption-free governance system. In 2007, Vijay returned to his home in Tamil Nadu with a rather brilliant plan to fight a corrupt society – The Zero Rupee Note.
The Zero Rupee notes were printed to empower the common man – those who suffer the most, those who are often oppressed by corrupt officials. The idea of the note was to tell people that they no longer needed to be afraid of those in power, and to make them realise that they had nothing to lose – and that for the first time, they were not alone in the fight.
The 5th Pillar, with the help of volunteers, started distributing the Zero Rupee notes at local market places, bus depots and railway stations to raise awareness about the campaign and reminding common folk of their rights as citizens of the country. They set up information desks at various places distributing the notes along with pamphlets.
Huge Zero Rupee Note banners were carried to more than 1200 schools, colleges and other public gatherings. In the course of the next five years, they managed more than 5 lakh signatures on the note as a sign of their endorsement, and as a sign of a pledge against corruption in the country.
The pledge can be seen printed at the bottom of the note.
5th Pillar’s website is full of stories where the Zero Rupee Note has been successfully put to use. This is Vijay’s experience at the Chennai domestic airport.
“On 22 April 2011, I took an auto to Chennai Domestic Airport to board a flight at 10:40 AM. The auto I was traveling on was stopped at the entrance of the Airport and I was asked to walk with my luggage all the way to the domestic airport. It was a long walk from the entrance and as I had my luggage, I asked the policeman the reason for him to stop all the vehicles at the entrance. I got a very “standoffish” reply from him saying that he is not the person to be questioned and he is simply following the instructions given to him by the Airport manager. I got out from the auto and handed over a Zero Rupee Note to him explaining that he can use it when someone asks him for a bribe when he needs to get an electricity or water connection for his residence.
He looked intrigued by the note and I went on to tell him that when he hands this Zero Rupee Note to any authority he would get his services without having to pay the bribe and if there is some resistance or unwarranted delay he can contact the address indicated at the back of the Zero Rupee Note and action would be taken right away. I told him that we have chapters in all the districts of Tamil Nadu and also in major cities in India, and we would inform the vigilance department if we receive the complaint from the public and follow up on the action.
The policeman said that the auto can go inside and drop the passenger in the Domestic Airport entrance. This is a victory for the Zero Rupee Note and I feel happy to know that we are able to get our rights without having to indulge in confrontation and by just handing over a Zero Rupee Note and creating awareness that we have an organization to back up against corruption and bribery.”
The 5th Pillar plans to keep expanding, to make sure that the Zero Rupee note reaches every oppressed Indian and corrupt official in the country. Over 3 million of these notes have been distributed across the country. It’s the perfect non-violent weapon of non-cooperation, the perfect way to make the corrupt self-introspect. Empowering the voiceless and the powerless of the country.