Whereas Gandhi used hunger strikes to fight against British colonialism in India, the Indian civil rights activist Anna Hazare has chosen the non-violent method to combat widespread corruption.
Anna Hazare is a uniting force
Anna Hazare hit the headlines in April when he staged a 98-hour hunger strike as part of his campaign to convince the government to revise its new corruption bill. He thinks the law that would allow citizens to approach an ombudsman with complaints should include the prime minister and high-ranking members of the judiciary who are currently exempt. Before he was able to launch another hunger strike as planned, he was arrested by police in the Indian capital. His detention has triggered massive protests in the Indian capital New Delhi.
The hunger strike is a simple, effective political method
Once again, a government in India is trembling before a single, old man. Once again, an old man's struggle has become a mass movement, triggering protests on the streets and heated debates in parliament. Once again, the voice of one old man is speaking for millions of Indians who are all plagued by one common ill. This time the fight is against corruption - something that the government has failed to tackle, instead becoming embroiled in scandal over and over again.
"The people see Anna Hazare as their leader because he has an untarnished image," explains Jagdeep Chhokar, the founder of the Association for Democratic Reforms. "He is respected and revered because he has moral integrity."
Policemen, politicians and journalists are all seen to be corrupt
From the army to civil rights
Kisan Baburao Hazare was born on 15. June 1937. Six children followed and he became known as "anna," which means older brother in Hindi. He had to leave school after seventh grade because his family was poor, and a good patriot, he decided to join the army at the beginning of the 1960s. He served as a driver during the war against Pakistan and when he was the lone survivor of an attack that killed all his comrades he decided to devote his life to his compatriots.
He read up on what Gandhi and other spiritual leaders had written and said and set up a water conservation project in his village in the state of Maharashtra. Thanks to his boundless energy, Ralegaon Siddhi became a kind of model village with less poverty and fewer caste barriers. Hazare’s fight against corruption, his life work so-to-speak, began in 1991. He has since won many awards.
Thousands of people have taken to the streets to support Hazare
"Corruption in India is so widespread now and people are so annoyed by it that Anna Hazare is like a glimmer of hope for them in this desperate situation" says Anupama Jha from Transparency International India. "If it hadn't been Anna Hazare, the people would have stood behind someone else because they do not trust the government anymore."
India is currently ranked 87th of 178 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions index.
Not exempt from criticism
However, Anna Hazare has also faced some resistance. The unmarried man in his white traditional cotton clothes and his wire-framed glasses might recall Gandhi, but his critics accuse him of indirectly supporting violence by demanding the death penalty for corrupt officials and politicians. Moreover, they say he is very close to Hindu nationalist groups and criticize his blackmailing of the government with his hunger strikes.
Jagdeep Chhokar has another point of view: "In the past 10 to 15 years, it seems as if the politicians have decided for themselves that they are not accountable to anybody once they have been elected. My organization has conducted studies that found more than a quarter of the MPs had criminal proceedings pending against them." He points out that one of India’s many contradictions is that offenders then become legislators.
He thinks that hunger strikes are justified in such emergency situations and says Anna Hazare’s arrest just proves how helpless the government is.
Thousands were gathered outside the jail where Hazare is being kept on Wednesday. He is thought to have launched his hunger strike inside.
Author: Priya Esselborn / Sachin Gaur / act
Editor: Ziphora Robina