Hunger Strikes, Protests, and History in the Making

History, as written by Wikipedia, has already added another chapter to the story of Gandian social activist Anna Hazare.

On August 16th, the day after India celebrated the 64th anniversary of its independence, Anna Hazare was scheduled to begin an indefinite fast and sit-in at one of New Delhi’s largest public parks.  He actions are a renewal of a 98 hour fast he head in April of this year in response to the government’s refusal to establish an office and ombudsman to handle corruption.  This comes at a time when the ruling government is embroiled in numerous cases of corruption and graft and a nationwide student movement is growing in vocal opposition to corruption.  A recent poll cited corruption as the biggest threat to freedom, according to young Indians.  Following his April fast Hazare named August 15 as a deadline for the government to create the anti-corruption office.  Until now the government has done little more than propose what is seen as a toothless anti-corruption bill so Hazare announced he would resume his fast indefinitely on August 16th.

For the past many weeks Mr. Hazare and his team of supporters – Team Anna – have been fighting a battle with the Delhi Police for the right to carry out this protest.  The main point of contention has been the location of the protest.  Last week Delhi Police slapped Team Anna with a list of conditions including that the fast must last no longer than 3 days and attract no more than 5,000 supporters.  Replying with a refusal to comply with the authorities’ conditions, Team Anna announced it would launch the fast and massive sit-in as planned.  In a surprising (to me) turn of events, Delhi Police arrested Mr. Hazare at his home early Tuesday morning and have taken him and other prominent supporters to Tahir Jail, a mammoth complex in the city.  Cities around the nation have erupted in protest calling the arrests undemocratic and unconstitutional.  In a video recorded prior to his arrest, Mr. Hazare urged supporters to protest and fill the jails if he was arrested.  Since his arrest he has refused bond and will begin his fast inside the jail, saying he will refuse even water if force fed.  He has called upon Indians of all ages and walks of life to give eight days of their life in non-violent protest and if necessary to fill the jails, a tactic as old as civil disobedience itself.

Yesterday one of my professors reinforced the importance of recent events saying, “I don’t want you to think I expect you to be in my class when there is history in the making.” Indeed I was one of two or three students who showed up for my classes today.  In addition to the activity around Hazare’s arrest, the university is on strike as students march to the Supreme Court in support of their case to reinstate the JNU Student Union.

As with all social movements, opinions of what is to come are mixed at the onset.  Some I have talked to believe this is the beginning of something huge – India’s 2nd Freedom Struggle.  Others brush off current events as yet another wave in India’s protest politics, saying things will be noisy and exciting for awhile but no real change will take place and Hazare will soon be forgotten.  For a view from Hazare’s camp click this link, and for a recent statement from the Indian government click here.  As a bystander and non-member of the Indian citizenry I can see valid points on either side.  Hazare’s supporters call the arrest undemocratic and unconstitutional.  The Indian government claims it had no other option than to arrest Hazare and it is unjust for one citizen to impose his will on a government elected to represent broad interests.  I think what Hazare is doing is incredibly gutsy and draws much deserved attention to India’s endemic corruption and challenges citizens elsewhere to shed light on the corruption that threatens freedom in their own country. The fallout of the next eight days will be interesting to watch.

Reporting from New Delhi, Anna Schumacher.


Posted on August 17, 2011, in Corruption, Politics, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Thanks for your perspective on this, Anna. How interesting to be an observer to democracy in action. We’re watching our own story unfold here and wonder where it will go.

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