You as a citizen of this country wanted to use a government service but were unable to due to apathy and red tape. If you are forced to pay a bribe what will you do? Do you know how to fight the corrupt officials? Majority of us just curse the system. But Deepak is has done something very different, he is fighting the corrupt system and wanted to help people who are in problems because of it.
Deepak, himself saw how apathy and corruption affected him personally when his aunt died. “ I did not stand up for her cause and did not do enough for her, but I can no longer live with that guilt. I want to follow her example and make a difference in people’s lives” he says. Deepak started a non-profit organisation called EmpZen to help people fight the corruption.
Inspiration for EmpZen
Through the life of his aunt Sarla Nilkanth, Deepak saw the corrosive effects of abuse, neglect, and corruption. Her untimely death encouraged him to devote his career to untangling India’s dangerous web of politics and bureaucracy.
Sarla Nilkanth was the youngest of four children and was married at an early age to an abusive man. After being abandoned by her spouse, she came across Vanasthali, a non-profit working for female empowerment and rural development. Thanks to the organisation, Sarla completed her education and transformed herself into a confident, independent woman.
She became a trainer and a teacher. She loved working with women and children. Sarla received dozens of letters from kids in remote villages. They expressed how much they enjoyed reading stories from her mobile library. She was very proud of the way she touched their lives.
Just as things were looking up for Sarla, another web of abuse began. While she was working toward her bachelor’s degree in Nashik, India, a local man would get on the bus and molest female students from her college. These women went to the police, but the perpetrator was never held; the harassment grew more and more frequent. So Sarla stopped taking the bus.
One day, she was riding home from class when she got into an accident. She bled on the busy street for a long time. She was later transported to a private hospital, but they refused to take her in. Finally, Sarla was taken to a government hospital, where she died on March 2, 2010.
She was just 35. She received her Bachelor of Education degree 28 days after she died.
Her death was preventable and was purely a result of apathy shown by government agencies. Deepak wanted to emulate her and be of service to others just as she was in her life. Corruption in police and lack of action on their part is nothing short of a criminal act. Thus Deepak came up with the idea for EmpZen.
Experiencing apathy and corruption first hand
Born and raised in India, we all have heard countless stories of people affected by evil practices of government officials. 69% of Indians have to pay a bribe in India every year compared to only 0.2% in Japan and 3% in China.
In his own life, Deepak has been witness to police harassment and bribery, despite not having broken the law. After his aunt’s death, Deepak wanted to understand how the system works and so he came back to his village and met people; he travelled to other towns and cities, went to courthouses, went to hospitals and interacted with people to understand what issues are affecting them. He says, “I spoke to them and heard people talking to them about how much bribe they need to pay and how the bribe needs to be distributed.”
What he saw shook him to the core. He says, “I saw people sitting and lying on the ground bleeding in hospital corridors with flies circling them, families crying outside struggling to get medical help for their loved ones.”
What is EmpZen?
EmpZen is a user-friendly and location-based service. You can see all the government services in various areas of the country, and the user can choose the area close to their location to gather information about government services. The data and information will be displayed based on location. They also plan to take an active role in resolving corruption complaints including follow up and legal actions.
How will the action be taken?
The complaint from the complainant will be forwarded to the immediate supervisor in the concerned government department, then to the proper chain of command. The charges will also be posted on the website and social media. If no action is taken within a specific time frame (to be decided after talking to the legal team), then the in-house legal team will take the matter to the court.
How did EmpZen come about?
As part of Deepak’s research, he wrote for Indian newspapers, communicating regularly with ordinary people like himself throughout India in various talukas and villages. He then began a company, but to register this business, he was forced to spend hours waiting in line and pay exorbitant bribes to obtain a license. Many who waited in the line were like him, helpless, angry and scared. For them, justice was meted out not based on innocence or guilt but according to who could pay and who could not. This experience instilled in him the zeal to do something about it.
His journey led him to Boston, where he attended programs at Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the University of Massachusetts, where he ultimately earned his master’s degree in finance and information technology. In Boston, and other American cities, he met students from all over the world and learned first-hand the issues faced by people of other countries like Kenya, Russia, Iran, Iraq, South Korea, Italy, Germany, Bangladesh, Pakistan, and China.
Future Plans for EmpZen
EmpZen will be launched in Indian regional languages to take the initiative to masses. It will also publish reports about corruption and its impact on society. Due to his continuous efforts, EmpZen is also selected by MIT’s Smart Mentor program. Now, with support from MIT, Deepak looks forward to working with other like-minded individuals who are passionate about the cause of human rights.
EmpZen is launched in Nashik and is coming soon to other cities. Please get in touch with EmpZen at [email protected] if you want this anti-corruption initiative to come to your town.
– Written by Deepika Vemuri
With #MySocialResponsibility, we aim to bring you more inspiring stories of individuals and organisations across the globe. If you also know about any changemakers, share their story at [email protected] and we'll spread the word.