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‘Fast Unto Death Out Of Place In Today’s India’

While Anna Hazare‘s campaign received clamorous popular support, it is unlikely to set a precedent.

NEW DELHI: On Day 2 of his fast unto death at Jantar Mantar, Anna Hazare turned to face his companions fasting along with him. “For a corn cob (bhutta) to grow, a corn pod (dana) must be sacrificed to the soil. If that pod says I don’t want to go into the soil, it will simply rot. It will end up in the thresher (chakki). But if it goes into the soil, it will ensure a field of corn. What is a man without sacrifice?” Around him, eyes swam, hunger pangs were ignored, tired limbs relaxed. The graying men nodded silently. They were here to sacrifice for the nation.

Sacrifice is not a term in modern India‘s lexicon. It is this idea of “going without” that gave Hazare’s form of protest its edginess, say observers. “His whole action was so out of place in today’s India that it immediately caught attention. It runs counter to current reality,” says social commentator Santosh Desai.

In effect, the image that will endure from Jantar Mantar is that of a composed Anna Hazare in white and his fasting companions, mostly graying. “The old people who just kept vigil were the impressive part of the agitation. They sustained the spirit of the movement,” says sociologist Shiv Viswanathan of the five-day protest that came to an end on Saturday morning when the 72-year-old Hazare broke his fast.

The main takeaway is Hazare’s morally strong intent. “A fast unto death has a morality play to it. Hazare played on morality with the right cameos in it: a police officer, a sadhu. The movement then acquired its own momentum,” says Viswanathan.

While the campaign received clamorous popular support, it is unlikely to set a precedent. There are murmurs of “blackmail” and “arm-twisting”, but fears of the fast-unto-death protest being repeated are misplaced. “It was of a self-limiting nature. For one, a set of conditions, a degree of legitimacy is required for a fast-unto-death type of protest.

Second, there are very few Annas around,” says Desai. Viswanathan agrees that the fast-unto-death was a result of desperation of having tired of a variety of scams, a way of drumming up attention. That said, caveats must be put into place. “We do need a series of caveats. Tomorrow, if a bunch of separatists decides to go on a fast unto death, what would you do? The issues are procedural, and caveats need to be put in place for this kind of protest,” says Viswanathan.

Adding to that, Desai points to the case of Manipur’s Irom Sharmila. At age 27, in year 2000, Irom Sharmila undertook to fast unto death against human rights abuse in Manipur, calling for the Armed Forces Special Powers Act to be removed. Taken into custody, she has been force-fed with a tube for a full ten years now. “The state can forcefully feed if the issue doesn’t have certain legitimacy,” says Desai. To that end, it is not a replicable model.

*The article is written by Nandita Sengupta.

(Courtesy: TNN)

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