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Mary: Peaceful but passionate protests

August 25, 2011

I’ve been meaning to write a post about the anti-corruption movement currently on the rise here in India for a little over a week now.  A man named Anna Hazare, one of India’s most well known and respected social activists, began a hunger strike 10 days ago with demands that the government introduce an anti-corruption bill to the congress, currently convened for the “monsoon session”. Corruption is one of the biggest social and political problems facing India today, with bribes and favoritism found at every level of government, from getting a drivers license to the appointment of top government offices. Rama-Ji told Emily and I the story of how our servant Moti’s brother went to college and actually got his teaching degree and wanted to go teach in a rural village. He applied and was awarded appointment to the staff, an arduous process with multiple tests and complicated application procedures, but in the end the government told him had to pay the equivalent of nearly 10 years salary just to be able to take the position! It was completely outrageous. So in the end, Moti’s brother had to take a position as a servant in a house as well and is slowly trying to earn enough money to pay for more schooling so that he can become a teacher in a private institution instead of a government one. So in response to thousands upon thousands, a truly countless number, of examples such as this, Anna Hazare is trying to pass a bill which will facilitate the creation of an anti-corruption task force that is independent of the government and would be capable of punishing instances of corruption even at the highest levels. The entire nation is behind Hazare, with peaceful demonstrations and mass gatherings being held in every major city and roughly 25,000 people gathering at the park in New Delhi where Hazare is currently conducting his fast. The tension is growing more and more each day as Hazare’s health deteriorates and the government does not seem any closer to taking action.

The main sticking point of the bill is that no level of government is exempt from the scrutiny of the anti-corruption authority, including even the prime minister and highest judicial courts. In fact, there is already a bill introduced in congress that proposes the creation of an independent anti-corruption authority but leaves out these top positions from falling under its jurisdiction. The government is worried that including these positions will undermine the authority of the Indian government and put the country at risk. “Team Anna” (as most of the TV stations here are calling the Hazare supporters), feels that not to include these highest offices would be to ignore the corruption which takes place at the highest levels and essentially give them a free pass to continue. So they have taken to burning copies of the “weak” form of the bill in the streets and sticking strongly to their demands of the full fledged bill coming into play. So today, towards the end of day 10 of the scheduled 15 day fast, the country is at a crossroads. The headlines of every major news paper and news network here have been focusing on little else besides the protests in support of Hazare. It truly has become a nationwide fight against corruption that is affecting the lives of every single Indian citizen in a personal way. It’s the topic of conversation every night at our dinner table and there have even been people walking down my street shouting out slogans in support of Hazare, one of which Rama-Ji translated as “Victory to Mother India”. I’m not sure what level of media attention this movement is receiving in the states, but I wanted to let everyone know how important it has become here and I encourage everyone to follow the progress of the movement over the next few days. This could turn out to be a very decisive time in Indian history and quite honestly it’s really exciting to be here in the midst of it!

In other not so important news tomorrow is the last day of Hindi class! I’m can’t believe how quickly the end of my pre-session has snuck up on me. Not that I haven’t been learning copious amounts of foreign language but, to be blunt, I’m more than ready for regular classes to start and to not have to be doing 4 straight hours of Hindi a day. Classes are going to resume Sept. 1, but from tomorrow afternoon until then, we have a nice long break! So the 5 other girls who are staying for the semester and I are all going on a weeklong trip to the far reaches of northern India to a magical place nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas known as Dharamsala! It is the home of the Dalai Lama and exiled Tibetan government and also a fantastic place to go trekking. I’m really looking forward to some cooler weather (it looks like it’s going to be in the 70s while we’re there) and a good long hike up into the mountains.

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