Anna Hazare is on a fast unto death for passing of the Jan Lokpal bill. Everyone who saw the newspapers today would notice these headlines. I have never had the fortune to meet him, been inspired by him since quite a long time.
First time I read about him was in an issue of Reader’s Digest, some time around 1990. I instantly became his fan. He joined Indian Army as a soldier in 1963. During those young days, many times, Anna felt that his life was futile and even penned a suicide note. By chance, he came across a book by Swami Vivekananda. That book gave him all the answers. He realized that ultimate motive for human life is service to humanity.
Another incidence further strengthened his resolve to work for the betterment of society. During the 1965 was against Pakistan, in an air attack, all his comrades got killed, but he miraculously survived. He felt that the God kept him alive for a special purpose.
After his retirement from army, he came back to his village, Ralegan Siddhi in Ahmednagar district of Maharashtra. This is an arid area with irregular rainfall. The village had almost completely gone to the dogs. There was little water and no agriculture. During the summer months, wells used to dry and the womenfolk of the village had to go miles looking for drinking water. Most young people left the village and went to the city to earn livelihood. There was no school. Amongst the people who stayed back, addiction to liquor was rampant. In absence of productive work, people spent time fighting with each other.
Anna decided to change all of that. He closed down all the illicit liquor dens. This earned him support from all the women of the village as they were no more victims of their drunkn husbands. He started a watershed development program. For all such development programs, he fought with the bureaucracy, it’s corruption and obtained funds available under various government schemes. He united the village and committed people to do Shramadan, voluntary labour. Many of the fights used to be because of trees on the boundaries of two farms. He fell all such trees and built a temple in the village using these trees. He off course planted a lot more trees to make up for these felled trees.
Ralegan started transforming. There was now year round water available in the wells due to watershed development. It was now possible to have two crops in a year. The people who had gone to the cities in search of livelihood returned. Through Shramdaan, villages built a gram panchayat office, a school and later a college. Ralegan become a model village. This development model was appreciated by the government and was adopted by the state government of Maharashtra as well as many other states.
For any man, this would have been achievement enough for a lifetime, not got Anna. He had experienced the corruption from very close quarters. In 1991, he started Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Aandolan (BVJA) or public movement against corruption. This further led to his fight for the Right To Information (RTI) act. In fact in July 2003, Anna did his second Fast unto Death and forced the government to draft the RTI act, which became the RTI act in 2005. RTI act has made the bureaucracy accountable to the general public.
The current fast is the logical next step. The fight now is for creation of an authority that would make it easier to file court cases against the corrupt bureaucrats and politicians.
Our standard excuse for inaction is, “What can I do alone? It’s not going to make any difference”. Anna has shown what a single man with strong conviction is capable of doing.
(If you want to know more about Anna, please visit here)