After twelve days of fasting in a park in New Delhi, Anna Hazare, (Anna means brother and is a term of respect and affection) brought his fast to an end at around 10 AM Sunday morning, August 28 (Saturday evening in the U.S.) by drinking coconut water with honey.
In the midst of hurricanes, earthquakes, the violent overthrowing of governments, explosions, gunfire, wars, and whatever else is taking the world’s attention, a truly remarkable event has taken place in India. In an astonishing moment in history that has gone largely unnoticed in the west, this one elderly man, solely by the power of his spiritual authority, has dealt a decisive blow to governmental corruption in his country.
Anna Hazare, 74, comes from a humble background, holds no official position, leads an austere life, and has no home of his own. He represents no special interests and has no powerful backers.
In the words of Dr. Nanditha Krishna, a well-known author in India:
Anna (brother) Hazare brought prosperity to his village, Ralegan Siddhi, by practising sustainable use of natural resources. He also stopped the consumption of alcohol, cigarettes and other tobacco products and non-vegetarian food in his village of Ralegan Siddhi by convincing the villagers to do so. He is a great practising environmentalist, who has stopped the use of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in Ralegan Siddhi. He is a simple man who owns nothing – no house, no land. He lives in a temple in his village and lives on his army pension. He has no bank balance.
Anna Hazare dropped out of the seventh grade in school due to poverty. He became a street fruit seller, till he joined the army as a driver after the Chinese attack of 1962. He is not part of the educated elite.
Several years ago, he formed the Bhrashtachar Virodhi Andolan (Anti-Corruption Movement) and has sent several politicians in Maharashtra to jail by “fasting unto death”. The Congress should have known that he would do the same this time too.
The arrest of Anna Hazare – first in April, followed by the latest arrest in August – has set off one of the most widespread mass movements in India, after Independence and the India Emergency in 1975-77, and shaken the UPA (United Progressive Alliance) government….They called him corrupt – that did not stick. They said he had been thrown out of the army. The army denied it and said that he had been discharged after retirement and had received several honours. They arrested and took him to Tihar jail – where the corrupt and the killers are kept – and then tried to release him when the mobs surrounded the jail. He refused to leave the jail till the government agreed to let him fast indefinitely with no conditions. The government was forced to accede.
Over the past few days, we have been witness to innumerable demonstrations and marches in almost every neighborhood in Delhi, and in every city and town in India. There are huge crowds at the Ramlila grounds 24×7, where he is fasting – in public… even Chennai has witnessed huge crowds of support. Contrary to the general propaganda, this is not merely a middle class movement. The public outrage at the scandal-a-day record of governments of all political hues and the groundswell of support for concrete action culminating in the Lokpal debate is a welcome sign for our democracy. An old man has the youth of this country following him, taking leave from schools, colleges, and offices and supporting his movement in different ways. Amazing!
Most importantly, there has been no rioting, no violence. India has lived up to its heritage of ahimsa. Anna is surrounded by the singing of bhajans (religious songs) and cries of Inquilab zindabad (Long live freedom), Jai hind (Victory to India), Vande mataram (the national song of India,) and Bharat Mata ki jai (Victory for Mother India). There is 24-hour live TV coverage of this movement. We are watching history being made.
He and his associates want the Jan Lokpal Bill (Citizen’s Ombudsman Bill) to replace the useless Lokpal Bill proposed by the government.
Anna proves that there is still hope left in a morally degraded world.
In every corner of India, massive demonstrations in support of this improbable figure have been characterized by candlelight vigils, peaceful marches, and the chanting of songs. Many have joined him in his fast.
Having fasted for many days, despite his growing physical weakness, the loss of around fifteen pounds (seven kilos), and the mounting concerns over his health by his doctors and followers, Anna refused to end his fast until all the anti-corruption measures he sought were guaranteed by government officials.
On Saturday Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sent a letter to Anna, agreeing in principle to all of his demands. The Indian Parliament has voted to accept his demands, though formal laws must be still put into place.
There had been a fear that Anna might fast to the death, and when, with typical humility, he stood up to speak on Saturday, asking the crowd’s permission to end his fast, they were filled with a great sense of joy, as was nearly all of India.
Anna’s anti-corruption campaign, which began in his village, Ralegan Siddhi, has spread throughout India. The major thrust of the campaign is to institute not just an ombudsman who would report to the government (which wouldn’t accomplish much, and would be like the foxes guarding the hen house), but what he calls a citizen’s ombudsman, Jan Lokpal – that is an ombudsman who has the authority to look independently into, and take action against, corruption on every level from the prime minister to lower public officials.
Why is there an outcry against corruption in India? (This is our problem in the west too, though we do not see it quite so clearly.)
Just about everywhere in the world, there is corruption, and public servants can be bought. (In the U.S. where we are fond of euphemisms, we don’t talk much about corruption. Corruption is here though; sometimes it is legal, well-regulated, and is known by more delicate names, like “campaign financing”). In India, less artfully, but more honestly, “corruption” is just called “corruption.”
All the same though, it is truly a widespread epidemic in India and is the cause of great suffering and inefficiency.
Corruption is a real, but hidden, reason why so many things just don’t seem to work in India. Laws are not enforced. City streets are not kept clean.
The effect of corruption on around a billion people in India, both the poor and the middle class, is oppressive, exhausting, and disheartening – little can be accomplished without paying a bribe or a kick-back. It’s not just a minor inconvenience; it can turn life into a painful obstacle course.
The environmental effect is catastrophic. In a land where people love animals, where there is an age-old tradition of sacred rivers, sacred trees, sacred forests, sacred mountains, and sacred animals – actually all of nature is worshipped in Indian tradition – it seems nothing can be done to save the environment—despite the presence of one of the most active and committed environmental movements in the world.
Tiger poachers can never be caught and thrown into jail, and so the tiger is widely thought to be doomed. Why? The answer comes down to corruption.
Cow slaughter is illegal in all but two Indian states, yet thousands of cows are slaughtered illegally. Laws against cow slaughter are not enforced because of corruption.
Great tracts of land are being destroyed by mega-companies. The air is unbreathable. There is poverty, the depth of which is hard to comprehend. Anything that could be done to change all this cannot be done because corruption stands like a roadblock in the way.
Injustice and hypocrisy, the underpinnings of corruption, have a way of turning people’s impulse towards life, growth, and transformation into dust and ashes. Corruption is profoundly demoralizing, and kills all it comes into contact with.
The lack of any redress causes, in turn, countless societal ills, and the whole country lives under a blanketing haze caused by the corruption of certainly not all, but a great many public officials.
Anna’s solution – a citizen’s ombudsman, with the power to hold officials accountable –would go far to lift this cloud of oppression.
Naturally, there have been countless objections to his proposal from law-makers and civil servants, including the charge that such an independent body might have the power to upset things. Upsetting the status quo and the entrenched reign of corruption is, of course, precisely the intent.
In an amazing and courageous campaign, Anna, backed up by his team, and supported by hundreds of millions throughout India who came out into the streets to show their support, has against all odds, won. He has won, not with bullets or violence, but by the oldest of Indian traditions – the self-sacrifice of fasting. Only in India could this happen.
Truly, this is a victory, not just for this one saintly man, and not just for his loyal followers and all of India, but for all of us — of truth over lies, of goodness over deceit, of courage over cowardice — of all that is spiritual over greed and fear.
In the west, comforted by our cars and our refrigerators, it can be easy to live oblivious to all the injustice, corruption, and the destruction of the natural world that surrounds us too. The problem is worldwide. Greed and fear rule and destroy the planet.
It is fitting that this act of heroism and this victory has taken place in India – a land whose history stretches back into the mists of time, before the world that we now know ever came into being –which, despite its problems and its all-too-glaring faults, is a land that has never abandoned its shining legacy of saints and holiness, of sacrifice and kindness, of great courage and wisdom, of spiritual leadership, and its abiding love of the eternal, the true, and the sacred.
Anna has not claimed victory, though the government has promised all the changes he demanded. He has seen too many times how promises made can be reneged on.
Yet this is a profound turning point in the era in which we live, where it seems so often that the forces of self-aggrandizement and corruption are gaining hold at every turn — that one man has stood up for the truth and has won.
There may yet be hemming and hawing, foot dragging, and even defeats and cataclysms. None of us can know which way the road will turn or what lies ahead.
Yet this is a great victory of truth and courage, not just for India, but in a way not yet fully seen, it is a victory for all the peoples of the earth.
Wherever the road may lead, what is certain is that there is a great light of truth shining through the darkness, one that is heaven-sent and can never be extinguished.
Top photo: Mnsanthoshkumar / Dreamstime.com / August 21, 2011, Anti-corruption protest, Freedom Park, Bangalore
Other photos: Sharon St Joan
Here are some websites, to learn more, recommended by Dr. Krishna:
Please visit http://www.indiaagainstcorruption.org/ to learn more about the bill. The fight is against corruption which has pervaded our lives.
To learn more about Anna Hazare, please visit Anna Hazare on Wikipedia.
http://nagarcity.com/Annahazare.aspx is also worth reading – about a simple Indian who has rocked the powerful government boat.