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Anna Hazare


Kisan Baburao "Anna" Hazare   born 15 June 1937) is an Indian social activist who led movements to promote rural development, increase government transparency, and investigate and punish official corruption. In addition to organising and encouraging grassroots movements, Hazare frequently conducted hunger strikes to further his causes—a tactic reminiscent, to many, of the work of Mohandas K. Gandhi.[1][2][3] Hazare also contributed to the development and structuring of Ralegan Siddhi, a village in Parner taluka of Ahmednagar district, Maharashtra, India. He was awarded the Padma Bhushan—the third-highest civilian award—by the Government of India in 1992 for his efforts in establishing this village as a model for others.[4]
Anna Hazare started an indefinite hunger strike on 5 April 2011 to exert pressure on the Indian government to enact a stringent anti-corruption law, The Lokpal Bill, 2011 as envisaged in the Jan Lokpal Bill, for the institution of an ombudsman with the power to deal with corruption in public places. The fast led to nation-wide protests in support. The fast ended on 9 April 2011, a day after the government accepted Hazare's demands. The government issued a gazette notification on the formation of a joint committee, consisting of government and civil society representatives, to draft the legislation.[5][6]For the year 2011 Foreign Policy magazine named him among top 100 global thinkers.[7] Also in 2011 Anna was ranked as the most influential person in Mumbai by a national daily newspaper.[8] He has faced criticism for his authoritarian views on justice, including death as punishment for corrupt public officials and his alleged support for forced vasectomies as a method of family planning

Early life

Kisan Baburao Hazare[11] was born on 15 June 1937 [12] (some sources say 1940)[13] in Bhingar, near Ahmednagar. He was the eldest son of Baburao Hazare and Laxmi Bai. He has two sisters and four brothers. He later adopted the name Anna, which in Marathi means "elder person" or "father".
His father worked as an unskilled labourer in Ayurveda Ashram Pharmacy[14] and struggled to support the family financially. In time, the family moved to their ancestral village of Ralegan Siddhi, where they owned a small amount of agricultural land. A relative took on the burden of providing Kisan with an education, taking him to Mumbai because the village had no primary school. The relative became unable financially to continue the support and Kisan's schooling ended in the Standard Seventh grade; his siblings never attended school.[15] He started selling flowers at the Dadar railway station in Mumbai and eventually managed to own two flower shops in the city.[16] He also became involved in vigilantism, joining groups who acted to prevent landlords' thugs from intimidating the poor out of their shelter.[17]

Military service

Hazare was drafted in the Indian Army in April 1960, where he initially worked as an army truck driver and was later attested as a soldier.[18] He undertook army training at Aurangabad.[15][19]
During the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, Hazare was posted at the border in the Khem Karan sector. He was the sole survivor of an enemy attack—variously claimed to have been a bomb, an aerial assault and an exchange of fire at the border—while he was driving a truck.[15][16][20] The experiences of wartime, coupled with the poverty from which he had come, affected him. He considered suicide at one point but turned instead to pondering the meaning of life and death.[15] He said of the truck attack, "[It] sent me thinking. I felt that God wanted me to stay alive for some reason. I was reborn in the battlefield of Khem Karan. And I decided to dedicate my new life to serving people."[16] At a book stand in New Delhi railway station, He came across Swami Vivekananda's booklet "Call to the youth for nation building" which inspired him to think deeper. He spent his spare time reading the works of Swami Vivekananda, Gandhi, and Vinoba Bhave.[21] In a blog post, Hazare expressed his views on Kashmir by saying that it was his "active conviction that Kashmir is an integral part of India" and that if required once again for service, he would remain "ready to take part in war against Pakistan."[22]
During his fifteen year career in the army (1960–75),[18] Anna Hazare was posted at a number of locations, including Punjab (Indo Pak war 1965), Nagaland, Bombay (1971) and Jammu (1974)[23]
During the Indo pak war, Hazare survived a road crash while driving for the army. He interpreted his survival as a further sign that his life was intended to be dedicated to service.[17] He had another escape in Nagaland, where one night, underground Naga rebels attacked his post and killed all the inmates. He had a miraculous escape as he had gone out to return nature's call and hence turned out to be the lone survivor.[24]
Official records show that he was honourably discharged in 1975 after completing 12 years of service.[19]

Transformation of Ralegan Siddhi

Hazare returned to Ralegan Siddhi, a village then described by Satpathy and Mehta as "one of the many villages of India plagued by acute poverty, deprivation, a fragile ecosystem, neglect and hopelessness."[25]
Although most of the villagers owned some land, cultivation was extremely difficult due to the rocky ground preventing retention of the monsoon rains, this situation was worsened by gradual environmental deterioration as trees were cut down, erosion spread and droughts were also experienced. The shortage of water also led to disease from unsanitary conditions and water reuse for multiple purposes. The economy of the village had become reliant on the illegal manufacture and sale of alcohol, a product on which many of the villagers had become dependent. Many inhabitants borrowed from moneylenders to survive, paying monthly interest rates of as much as 10%. Crime and violence (including domestic violence) had become commonplace, while education and employment opportunities were poor.[17][26]
Hazare was relatively wealthy because of the gratuity from his army service. He set about using that money to restore a run-down, vandalized village temple as a focal point for the community. Some were able to respond with small financial donations but many other villagers, particularly among the elderly, donated their labour in a process that became known as shramdaan. Some youths also became involved in the work and these he organised into a Tarun Mandal (Youth Association). One of the works of Vivekananda which he had read was Call to the youth for nation building.[27]

Prohibition of alcohol

Hazare and the youth group decided to take up the issue of alcoholism to drive a process of reform. At a meeting conducted in the temple, the villagers resolved to close down liquor dens and ban alcohol in the village. Since these resolutions were made in the temple, they became, in a sense, religious commitments. Over thirty liquor brewing units voluntarily closed their establishments. Those who did not succumb to social pressure were forced to close their businesses when the youth group smashed their premises. The owners could not complain as their businesses were illegal.[28]
Drunken villagers were tied to pillars and then flogged, sometimes personally by Hazare. He justified this punishment by stating that "rural India was a harsh society",[29] and that
Doesn't a mother administer bitter medicines to a sick child when she knows that the medicine can cure her child? The child may not like the medicine, but the mother does it only because she cares for the child. The alcoholics were punished so that their families would not be destroyed.[30]
Hazare appealed to the government of Maharashtra to pass a law whereby prohibition would come into force in a village if 25% of the women in the village demanded it. In 2009 the state government amended the Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949 to reflect this.[31]
It was decided to ban the sale of tobacco, cigarettes, and beedies (an unfiltered cigarette where the tobacco is rolled in tendu also known as Diospyros melanoxylon leaves instead of paper) in the village. In order to implement this resolution, the youth group performed a unique "Holi" ceremony twenty two years ago.[when?] The festival of Holi is celebrated as a symbolic burning of evil. The youth group brought all the tobacco, cigarettes, and beedies from the shops in the village and burnt them in a Holi fire. Tobacco, cigarettes, or beedies are no longer sold.[32][33]

Grain Bank

In 1980, Hazare started the Grain Bank at the temple, with the objective of providing food security to needy farmers during times of drought or crop failure. Rich farmers, or those with surplus grain production, could donate a quintal to the bank. In times of need, farmers could borrow the grain, but they had to return the amount of grain they borrowed, plus an additional quintal as an interest. This ensured that nobody in the village ever went hungry or had to borrow money to buy grain. This also prevented distress sales of grain at lower prices at harvest time.[15]

Watershed development programme

Ralegan Siddhi is located in the foothills, so Hazare persuaded villagers to construct a watershed embankment and associated works to stop water and allow it to percolate and increase the ground water level and improve irrigation in the area. These efforts solved the problem of water scarcity in the village and made irrigation possible.[17][21]
Cultivation of water-intensive crops like sugarcane was banned. Crops such as pulses, oilseeds, and certain cash crops with low water requirements replaced them. The farmers started growing high-yield varieties and changed cropping pattern. Hazare has helped farmers of more than 70 villages in drought-prone regions in the state of Maharashtra since 1975.[34] When Hazare came to Ralegan Siddhi in 1975 only 70 acres (28 ha) of land was irrigated, Hazare converted it into about 2,500 acres (1,000 ha).[28]

Milk production

As a secondary occupation, milk production was promoted in Ralegan Siddhi. Purchase of new cattle and improvement of the existing breed with the help of artificial insemination and timely guidance and assistance by a veterinarian improved the cattle stock, increasing milk production.[citation needed]

Education

In 1932, Ralegan Siddhi got its first formal school, a single classroom primary school.[clarification needed] In 1962, the villagers added more classrooms through community volunteer efforts. By 1971, out of an estimated population of 1,209, only 30.43% were literate (72 women and 290 men). Boys moved to the nearby towns of Shirur and Parner to pursue higher education, but girls were limited to primary education. Hazare, along with the youth of Ralegan Siddhi, worked to increase literacy rates and education levels. In 1976 they started a pre-school and a high school in 1979. The villagers formed a charitable trust, the Sant Yadavbaba Shikshan Prasarak Mandal, which was registered in 1979.[citation needed]

Removal of untouchability

The social barriers and discrimination that existed due to the caste system in India have been largely eliminated by Ralegan Siddhi villagers. It was Hazare's moral leadership that motivated and inspired the villagers to shun untouchability and caste discrimination. Marriages of Dalits are held as part of community marriage program together with those of other castes. The Dalits have become integrated into the social and economic life of the village. The upper caste villagers built houses for the lower caste Dalits by shramdaan and helped to repay their loans.[35][36][37]

Gram Sabha

The Gandhian philosophy on rural development considers the Gram Sabha as an important democratic institution for collective decision-making in the villages of India.[38] Hazare campaigned between 1998 and 2006 for amending the Gram Sabha Act, so that villagers have a say in the village's development. The state government initially refused, but eventually gave in to public pressure. It became mandatory to seek the sanction of the Gram Sabha (an assembly of all village adults, and not just the few elected representatives in the gram panchayat) for expenditures on development works in the village.[31]

Activism

Present activism

On 9 August 2013, Anna's office announced his anti-corruption organisation Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Andolan (BVJA) is no longer tackling corruption issues at a personal or social level. In an email circulated to India Against Corruption's membership, the veteran Gandhian's office has clarified that Anna "is now focused on Janlokpal, Right to Reject, Right to Recall, Farmers problems, Change in Education in System".[39]
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