Death and taxes. They seem like universal constants. Yet, oftentimes they come as a surprise, even when they really shouldn’t. Residents of India, however, have proven especially reluctant to pay the taxman. In a country with 1.2 billion residents, only 3% pay taxes. While that number is low due to a variety of factors, particularly high poverty levels, the wealthy are not contributing either. To change their tune, government officials have started banging drums.
There’s nothing quite like public shaming to make people rethink their actions. In a country like India, where community relations are especially important in business dealings, having a hoard of drummers pounding away outside your house lowers that reputation in a hurry. Since implementing the drum corps approach at the start of the year, Indian officials in Thane, a suburb of Mumbai, have seen longtime tax delinquents pay up in minutes. For instance, Sanjay Bohir, a 50-year-old tin worker, owed $285 in back taxes. Three minutes after drummers arrived, the tax collector accompanying them had a check from Bohir. Vilas Pednerkar, who owed $300, endured the drummers for five minutes before paying. Prahul Sawant, a real estate developer who was five years behind in his taxes, lasted two hours before forking over $945. They’re not alone. Tax revenues in Thane have increased 20% this year.
The drummers are local residents paid by the state. Most enjoy the opportunity to help the community and demonstrate their musical talents. According to Aniket Jadhav, a 17-year-old percussionist, the music he plays to humiliate tax scofflaws is the same he plays at weddings and birthdays. While the system has been effective so far, officials in Thane, on advice from officers in New Delhi, know they’ll need to soon change their strategy. The flock of four drummers, one flag bearer carrying the coat of arms of Thane, and tax collector will eventually become a common sight, lessening the effects of the public shaming. To counteract that, Sanjeev Jaiswal, the municipal commissioner, plans to hire hijras, the Indian term for transgender women, to dance outside the homes of tax evaders. Indians believe that hijras can cast hexes, so if their dancing doesn’t increase tax revenue, maybe their magic will.