Who is Anna Hazare & Why is He in News ?
Anna Hazare is an Indian civil activist. He has been in news recently because of the public protests launched by him against corruption recently, in which hundreds of thousands have joined across India, making him an icon against corruption in the country. Here is a brief introduction of his life, experiences, achievements and efforts against corruption in public life.
Childhood & Early Life of Anna Hazare
The actual name of Anna is Kisan Baburao Hazare. He was born on 15 June, 1937 in a small village called Bhaaingar, near the Hinganghat city in erstwhile Bombay province, which now comes within the state of Maharashtra in India. He was the eldest of seven siblings in a poor family, and his father used to worked as an unskilled worker in the Ayurveda Ashram Pharmacy. At the time of his birth, his parents were staying in Bhaaingar, where his grandfather was employed with the Indian Army.
In 1952, Baburao, Anna’s father resigned from his job and returned to his ancestral village, Ralegan Siddhi, which is now in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. The family was facing immense hardship during those days, and hence one of his aunts took the responsibility of Anna and brought him to Mumbai with her. He studied there till seventh standard, and then due to the economic problems of the household, sought employment. He used to sell flowers in Dadar (in Mumbai) and with his meagre income, began to support his family. Two of his younger brothers joined him in Mumbai.
Service with Army & Close Shaves with Death
In 1962, Anna joined the Indian Army. He was short and did not fulfil the physical preconditions of recruitment in defence forces, yet got a chance due to the large scale recruitment that was undertaken at that time in the wake of the Indo-China war. He was appointed as the Driver in Indian Army in 1963. During the Indo-Pak war of 1965, he was serving in the border area of Khem Karan sector, where he had his first close shave with death. In an air attack launched by Pakistan Air Force on the convoy in which he was travelling, all soldiers were killed, miraculously leaving him as the lone survivor. A bullet crossed very close to his head, while he drove the truck. He had another close shave with death in the seventies, where once again, he was saved, almost miraculously, in a severe accident.
These two incidents had a very deep impact on Anna’s psyche. After the first incident, he came across a book by Vivekanand, titled, “Call to the youth for nation building”. He began to read more works of Vivekanand, Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave, which affected his thinking. He began to realise that good people live for others and the whole society. After the second incident, he became convinced that there was some deep reason for his survival. He took it as a gift of the Lord and an opportunity to do something worthwhile.
Village Development Efforts in Ralegan Siddhi
In 1975, he took voluntary retirement from the Army and returned to his village Ralegan Siddhi. However, on his return, he did not go back to his family household. He had remained unmarried. He decided to use all his retirement benefits in the Sant Yadavbaba temple, wherein he began to live in a very small room for himself. In years to come, the temple became the nodal point for transformation and development.
The first of the activities undertaken by Anna was to make a pre-school in 1976, which was later upgraded to a high school in 1979. Along with the people of the village, he made a trust called Sant Yadavbaba Shikshak Prasarak Mandal in 1979, which got a grant of Rs 400,000 (US $ 8920) to construct a new building for the school. This money might not have been enough, but was made so by the Shramdaan or voluntary labor of the villagers, who put in manual labor without any returns to get the school building. A hostel building for 200 students was also made. The school has been catering to the lowest strata of the society, and followed a somewhat strange rule. Students with poorer Academic record were preferred for admission.
Simultaneously, Anna also took up another mission. Often the womenfolk visiting the temple used to complain and cry about their miseries, many of which originated from the addiction of their menfolk to alcohol, which was made by many illegal breweries in the village. Anna organised the youth of the village into a young brigade, called Tarun Mandal. Using the temple as the centre for their public activities, which had a very strong symbolic effect in conservative Indian society, he launched full opposition against these local breweries. Womenfolk of the village, who were often the worst sufferers of widespread alcoholism in the village, joined Anna and came to the fore thereby launching a very strong campaign against Alcohol. Most local brewing units agreed to close down. Others were closed with use of force, and could not complain as their production was illegal. Some stakeholders kept resisting and fighting against the Anna led group, but were too isolated to stop the campaign.
The third major contribution, which people of Ralegan Siddhi brought about, was for the watershed development around the village. Ralegan Siddhi had been a very poor village with poor agricultural production, which was primarily due to lack of irrigation facilities and continuous erosion of soil by rainwater. Villagers joined hands and used Shramdaan (community labor without cost on voluntary basis) to built many canals and micro-dams to prevent water-borne soil erosion. Their collective measures have made significant progress during the last few decades.
In addition to these, villagers of Ralegan Siddhi adopted many modern methods like wormiculture to prepare clean organic manure, use of biogas to cook food, wind mill to generate electricity from wind and promoting afforestation of the surroundings. All these innovations have yielded rich dividends and converted Ralegan Siddhi to a modern village, which was formally considered as a role model, and the Government of Maharashtra came up with a scheme to develop more villages on similar lines elsewhere in the state.
Anna Hazare’s efforts in transformation and modernization of Ralegan Siddhi have been widely recognized. He has been honored by the Government of Maharashtra, the Government of India and the World Bank, apart from various other organizations, with many prestigious awards, including two of the highest civilian awards in India, the Padmashree (1990) and Padmavibhishan (1992).
Anna Hazare & the Anti-Corruption Tirade
Anna’s tirade against corruption began in 1991, when he launched a ‘Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Andolan’ (People’s Movement Against Coruption) in his village, Ralegan Siddhi. Since then, he has been agitating off and on against corrupt officials of various departments. He has raised allegations of corruption against leaders of different political parties, making his stand free from political affiliations. In April 1998, he was arrested in a defamation suit filed by one of the Ministers, against whom he has made allegations of corruption. In September, 1998, he was served a three year imprisonment sentence by the Mumbai Metropolitan Court, but he had to be released by the Government in response to widespread public protests.
In 2003, he raised corruption charges against four Ministers and started a fast unto death seeking action against them, which lead to the appointment of a Commission which probed the charges and indicted three of those Ministers. However, this Commission, headed by Justice P B Sawant, also indicted Anna for some irregularities of accounts, primarily based on an expenditure of Rs 220,000 by a trust headed by Anna, for using the trust corpus for celebrating his 61st birthday. However, the Government did not take action against him.
Recent Agitation for an Omnipotent Lok Pal (Ombudsman against Corruption)
Civil activists across the state have been agitating for creation of a Lok Pal, a powerful ombudsman to check corruption in high offices. In the past six decades, several bills have been placed before the Parliament for this, but none had been accepted by the legislature. In 2010, the Government again drafted a bill for the Lok Pal (ombudsman). However, a group of civil activists led by Anna Hazare demanded immediate creation of Lok Pal, with far more powers than proposed in the Government bill. Anna announced that he will launch public agitation and undertake a fast unto death till the government accepts their demands.
The Government initially accepted their demand and agreed to place the bill before the Parliament in the coming session. It even went to the extent of creating a joint committee of ten members, five from the Government and five from the civil society, to draft the bill. However, the Anna Hazare led group demanded that the Prime Minister as well as the judges of the Supreme Court should be brought within the jurisdiction of the Lok Pal, which was not accepted by the Government. Though the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh publicly expressed his willingness to submit to the authority of the proposed Lok Pal, other leaders did not find it feasible. Many feared that this can lead to sudden political instability, which can even compromise the national integrity.
In protest, Anna Hazare announced that he will go on a fast from 16th August, 2011, but that day, Anna was arrested by the police in the morning, and taken to jail. This led to widespread public protests, wherein hundreds of thousands joined together in demonstrations across several cities of India. Protestors largely consisted of students, youth, retired people and civil activists, though some people allege that some of the crowds were organised by the opposition parties who are using this as an opportunity to damage the ruling party’s image. By evening, the police agreed to release Anna, but refused to give unconditional permission to Anna to organise fast and mass protests. In response, Anna refused to leave the jail unless he was allowed his democratic right to protest.
By evening of 17th August, there were unconfirmed reports that Anna’s demand for allowing protests and fasting without any restrictions have been agreed by Delhi police. This interesting story is just beginning to unfold.
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Do you think corruption can be controlled with a strong Ombudsman ?
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Anna Hazare has been waging an incredible war against corruption, injustice and exploitation of the ordinary citizens,which reached its zenith in 2011-12 and resulted in major overhauls in Indian politics.
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© 2011 V Kumar