Social media helps make a hero out of elderly hunger striker



Wonder if you’ve noticed? Your Facebook friends from India – denizens, Non Resident Indians et al – are wearing strange badges on their profiles: India against corruption; I’m with Anna Hazare etc etc. After a long lull, India has just returned from another date with Gandhian principles. And this time, they have managed to defeat the government.

Last week, social activist Anna Hazare, a simple old man who lives out of the bag, owns no property and sleeps in a 10 foot by 10 foot room attached to a temple in the village of Ralegaon Siddhi, went on hunger strike against corruption in India.

He was demanding a stringent law change that would call corrupt politicians to account. The 73 year-old might not have made the government act on his own but what happened was that in a matter of three days, the entire nation joined him.

From 18 year old collegiates to 80 year old grandmothers, it seemed just about everybody was at New Delhi’s India Gate, lighting candles and raising slogans against corrupt politicians who have held the nation to ransom for many years now. Across the country, there were agitations, demonstrations, speeches, meetings and citizen marches by young and old bearing placards and tattoos saying “mera neta chor hai” (My leader is a thief).

The India Against Corruption website and a range of social media networks played a major role in setting off a chain reaction that quickly engulfed the entire country – small towns, villages, remote areas on the borders of the country. They quickly emerged as the means of sounding the war cry for the  50 million strong Indian middle class, that normally spends its life buried in the quagmire of 9 to 5 jobs, meeting education loans for growing kids, saving for a house and getting their work done by bribing a highly corrupt administration.

Not only did social networks urge family and friends to join the movement by making their disillusionment with the government public but they also coaxed members to support Anna’s campaign by observing fasts, candlelight vigils and gathering at protest points across various towns and cities. Over 120,000 Facebook fans expressed their liking for Hazare and tweets referring to his campaign were among the world’s most trending listed in Twitter’s ‘breaking globally‘ trends.

Questions like — ‘Anna Hazare who is this?’— were being asked on Twitter, not just in India but also countries like UK, USA, Canada, India, and the Gulf and anywhere else where there is a high percentage of expat Indians.

Avaaz, an international online community that has over 7.5 million members, also started a campaign to support Anna Hazare. Started in 2007, the community operates by organizing protests through the internet. YouTube served as the medium to track the hunger strike, as videos or news clippings related to the campaign were viewed by over 90,000 people.

The Indian middle class has been facing the brunt of corruption for a long time now. Right from getting a kitchen gas cylinder to a passport to a driving license to a house loan to college admissions, bribes have become a way of life. Frequent scams related to bureaucrats and politicians have destroyed the people’s faith in politicians. It is interesting that when everybody seemed to have given up, Gandhian principles once again showed a way.

After three days, the agitation picked up so much momentum that the government had to finally give in and agree to the long pending Lokpal Bill that will be introduced in the Monsoon session of Parliament.

Lokpal Bills were introduced in the Parliament several times (1969, 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005 and in 2008) but failed to be passed all these times. A Lokpal Bill is a measure to conduct an investigation regarding involvements of people with high profiles (Prime Ministers, Chief Justice of India (CJI) and so on). The bill will provide speedy, cheaper form of justice to people. It is a big victory for India. Democracy won, strangely enough, against democracy.

Editor in Chief at here SMNZ, I have a passion for social and digital media. When not writing and managing SMNZ I am the Head of Innovation at TAG The Agency, a digital ad agency and the Head of Sales and Marketing for End-Game, a software development agency. I'm also involved with a number of startups and I am always keen to support those that are bold enough to give things a go. Start something, better to try than to live wondering what if...

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