India's is an ancient civilization, one of the oldest in human history. It is also an extremely complicated society, with a population of over one billion people, hundreds of millions of whom identify as Muslim in a nation comprised primarily of Hindus. The theological distinctions between the monotheistic Islamic practices of the Muslim population and the polytheistic nature of Hinduism, combined with the deeply-entrenched caste system that has historically condemned hundreds of millions of Indians to lives of economic deprivation while those who occupy the upper rungs of that caste system grow wealthier, has resulted in societal fissures and the tensions that have made the country's socioeconomic advancement highly problematic. India is a nation with a vibrant high-technology sector and that has launched satellites into space, yet can't provide indoor plumbing for millions of its people. And, of particular relevance to the matter at hand, it is very politically and socially corrupt. Bribery as a routine means of doing business and extortion at the hands of corrupt bureaucrats and organized criminal elements alike have fed the perception of India as a hotbed of corruption, although it ranks squarely in the middle of the authoritative global rankings issues by the nongovernmental organization Transparency International.
Corruption, often in the form of bribery as an accepted practice, is a major theme throughout Aravind Adiga's novel. His 'protagonist', the story's narrator, Balram Halwai, describes in his letters to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao instances of the routine provision of bribes to Indian bureaucrats as the only means of advancing one's interests. More importantly, the moral corruption that eats away at the nation's soul condemns many Indians to lives of enforced servitude. The caste system that identifies every Indian from birth with respect to socioeconomic status, while gradually giving way to the rise of a large middle-class, remains very much a defining feature of Indian society. Corruption, Adiga's narrative suggests, is as Indian as the rice that remains a staple of the national diet. The technological advancements achieved by Indian scientists have not blocked out the cultural impediments to human advancement represented by the corrupt bureaucrats and businessmen who populate The White Tiger.