India's pied piper

UNLIKELY BONDING

India's pied piper

When was the last time you saw a 20-year-old wave the Tricolour and shout Bharat Mata Ki Jai, wearing a determined look and a Gandhi topi on her head?

Not in a period film, but in real life? Isn’t the answer last week? And wasn’t it possibly the first time in about 60 years? And doesn’t it bring a lump in the throat to see so many young people with their bright shining eyes, earnest faces and acid-washed jeans wearing khadi kurtas and standing under umbrellas in falling rain in Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan, in Mumbai’s Azad Maidan, in Bangalore’s Freedom Park: shouting slogans about the motherland that we thought they had forgotten a long time back.

From “Main bhi corrupt” (I am also corrupt) to “Main bhi Anna” (I am also Anna), India seems to have changed hats in the last fortnight. There might be pros and cons to the Anna Hazare movement and intellectual murmurs of discontent but it does look like this 74-year-old man has made a younger generation step out of Barista coffee bars, chuck their designer caps, headphones and Ray Bans for Gandhi topis and national flags.

The surprise element of the Anna Hazare drive to bring on a strong Jan Lokpal Bill has been the participation of youth – the Facebook and Twitter generation. The campaign seems to have taken the country back to pre-Independence India and introduced young India to a leader they can respect and a cause they need to fight for.

Young theatre actors in Hyderabad, school teachers in Muzzafarnagar, Air Force employees in Hyderabad, office assistants in Jammu who don’t know each other but know the common pain they want to rid their country of are coming together in spirit inspired by an old man who seems to have unleashed a madness.

Candlelight vigils, dharnas, demonstrations, shaved heads, sand sculptures with a dozen Annas rising up on sandy ocean beaches are colouring our TV screens. School girls with fat pigtails and blue uniforms waving paper flags, college boys with the Tricolours painted on bare brown chests, young smiling volunteers dishing out alu ki sabzi and rice from Anna ki Rasoi at Ramlila Maidan or painting national flags on willing cheeks; these are the newly recruited soldiers of old man Anna.

They are the ones standing vigil in the sun and rain; in sultry August evenings and dark fasting nights, not just in metros like Delhi and Mumbai but also places like Karad and Kotdwar, Moga and Manali.

We are a corrupt country. We are a corrupt people. How many of us can put a hand on the heart and say we never paid a bribe to get a driving license; or got a passport in an emergency by dishing out a few extra thousand bills; or used an office car for a private trip or an official phone for a personal call; or paid money in black besides white for a flat or a piece of land? Very few, if any.

Not only have we done all this, we have also employed underage children for housework/looking after the baby/the shop; paid bare minimum wages to menial employees who need the job so desperately that they won’t protest. We have bribed traffic police, got train reservations on a discreet extra payment, managed posting by greasing palms.

Corruption has become a way of life for us so completely that anyone who cannot or will not indulge in it is labeled a fool. It’s true that the Jan Lokpal Bill cannot change this on its own, or overnight. But Kisan Baburao Hazare, now of course Anna (elder brother) to the whole world, has taught young India to think about issues other than a degree in a foreign university, a job with an MNC or a night at the pub. He has taught them about the country that they belong to; about satyagraha and Gandhian means of protest (something most of us had forgotten) and the passion of supporting a social cause.

He has got them singing Vande Mataram again when we weren’t even sure they knew the words. He has them waving the Tricolour and shouting slogans that must make the tears well up in their grand or great grandparents’ eyes who saw this kind of passion only during the Freedom Movement.     

From a nation that has celebrated corruption in all these years of independence — we boast about the black money we have, give each other tips of which palms to grease and with how much for a certain job, buy tickets in black for a super hit film about a corrupt and fearless cop — we seem to have once again become Mahatma Gandhi’s country of people who want to participate in the change they want to bring about.  

The social media has played a very important part in getting a country of a billion plus together, particularly young college kids — the Facebook/Twitter generation — who were born long after Gandhi died and are getting a feel of what struggles and causes are all about. India’s so called second fight for freedom — freedom from corruption — is starting with elementary lessons. Naturally, there is a nursery rhyme for beginners.  Twinkle twinkle little star; Anna is our rock star! That’s how it goes.

Thus speaketh the young...
Yes, I have thought of India and corruption but no more so than many other countries I have travelled in — Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Italy etc.

The Anna campaign has not changed the way I look at Indians. I look upon Indians favourably and always have done but I am excited for India that this campaign has gained as much momentum as it has. I like to think that those that are powerless in the face of corruption, officialdom and big business have a voice and that that voice appears to be getting louder.
Charles Mabbett,
Communications Adviser
and former journalist, New Zealand


India takes the cake in being a corrupt nation. Everybody is smothered in corruption. I am rather sceptical about the Anna Campaign. You make an effigy and blow life into it, endow supreme powers to it, but can you really guarantee that your Frankenstein will not go astray and deviate from the cause? Guess we will have to wait and watch.
Amit Rautela,
Business Manager, TechTree IT Systems

Corruption, like greed, is inherent in human beings. It often stems because of an unequal society, where the rich benefit more from the corrupt structures and the poor face the heat of it. While it is easy to point out government officials, bureaucrats and politicians as the ‘corrupt lot’, how many of us have not bribed to make things quicker for us?

In societies where rich businessmen and the elite are seen as role models, there will always be the itch to reach the top, whatever the means may be. The Anna campaign has not changed the way people look at corruption.

Rather, it has been very easy to brush aside the bigger questions plaguing India ranging from rampant poverty, hunger, malnutrition and poor health care. Yes, there are deep-rooted problems surrounding corruption. More than questioning corruption, we need to question injustices.

We need to question exploitative policies which allow a narrow section of society to benefit at the cost of the majority. When we question injustices and find solutions for them, we will find solutions for corruption also.
Nishank,
Secretariat Coordinator,
Alliance for Sustainable and Holistic Agriculture (ASHA)

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