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'My fast at Azad Maidan, and what various people in the movement against corruption are saying'

'My fast at Azad Maidan, and what various people in the movement against corruption are saying'

Author: Peter Theobald
Publication: Moneylife.in
Date: August 23, 2011
URL: http://moneylife.in/article/my-fast-at-azad-maidan-and-what-various-people-in-the-movement-against-corruption-are-saying/19144.html

Peter Theobald shares his experiences from the protest at Mumbai's Azad Maidan, in support of a strong anti-corruption law

So, yesterday (Friday, 19 August) I decided that if a 74-year-old Gandhian had already fasted for four days, for all of us, what is my excuse, particularly given my past history in this matter? Also, I had been putting off my scheduled three-day fast for quite a while, this is as good a reason as any to re-start this practice that was any way good for my health. Only I was thinking, given the long break, would my body still respond the same way? Only one way to find out - Try!

So as usual, I told-or rather requested-my body, that I am going to begin a three-day fast tomorrow, so please adjust to being without food for three days. I had found in the past that this ensured that the three-day fast passed without a single hunger pang-something amazing, since normally I get severe hunger pangs even if I delay one meal. But this little request resulted that during the three days, I might feel tired, sleepy, a bit weak, headache, dry throat etc, in fact a lot of feelings-but anything but hunger!

And so it was, that in the morning, suitably armed with two bottles of water, a change of clothes and a thin sheet if I had to spend the night, I left for Azad Maidan. This time I did not lie to my son. After an initial protest, he accepted it, gave me a hug, and went back to play. Good, at least I got that right this time.

I reached the venue to find a small army of TV and police vans parked outside, and a contingent of about 50 policemen and women scattered around. I went to the stage, where about 50 people were quietly sitting, some reclining, assuming that they were fasting. I was politely told, with folded hands, "Yes, but you see, the stage is full, you are on day one of your fast; many of these people are fasting for five days and need to stretch out a bit, there is no room for more people now, so please sit in the front row of the audience. You can join on the stage tomorrow."

So I sat there, watching with increasing amazement as a series of people, as motley a group as you can imagine, continuously took the stage one after the other... and echoed almost the same thing. It did not matter if it is was an illiterate farmer from Ralegan Siddhi, or an IT engineer from TCS, or a banker from Nomura Financial Services, or a housewife, if you removed their external identity, it was as if it was one person speaking. They looked the same, in simple clothes, an Anna cap, and a black armband. And they spoke the same language. And it was clear to see that they were speaking from their heart. Patriotic songs, couplets, slogans, and they were saying the most incredible things... I made a few notes...

A municipal teacher-transferred 12 times in 18 years for opposing corruption-now on her fifth day of fast. "By fasting I am not doing an upkar (favour) to anybody; it is for myself."

The 65-year-old event co-ordinator with indefatigable energy. "We want no violent words, no negativity. Nothing against any person. We are not fighting to change the government, but to change the system."

A five-year-old child, sang a patriotic song that brought tears to my eyes.

Indian Spiderman Gaurav Sharma, who climbed a 16-storey building in the rain in eight minutes, to hoist the Indian flag, to protest against corruption: "I did not take permission to do this, since I do not need permission to fight for my independence."

An MBA on his fifth day of the fast waxed eloquent. "Lathi/bullet khayenge, Jan Lokpal le ayenge" (We will brave batons and bullets, but get the Jan Lokpal Bill passed.)

An advocate: "Khoon ki Holi khelenge - lekein apni khoon ka. Ahimsak doosron ka khoon nahin bahate". (We will play Holi with blood if required-but our blood. Non-violent people do not shed other's blood.)

An event organiser called another person on stage, to share his slogan, saying "Taking credit for another person's idea is also corruption."

Many of these persons spoke so fluently, with so much passion, energy, without a trace of fatigue that it was difficult to believe they had not had a morsel to eat for five days. I was beginning to understand what Anna Hazare meant when he said, "I get my energy from all of you".

A retired police inspector. A housewife. "Fasting increases your atma-shakti. Strength of the soul."

A 11-year-old who was fasting for a day. Many youngsters from schools and colleges were given the mike and they spoke with a clarity and wisdom and understanding of the situation that belied their years.

It was getting more crowded now. Groups of people kept pouring in from everywhere. Cuffe Parade Residents Association-who says the rich don't care? Passengers on the Jan Lokpal Express. A group from this company, this bank, that IT company, who had left their laptops behind and were carrying a flag instead. A school child whose father was a Congress party leader. One youngster who ran 14 km from Wadala to Azad Maidan, waving the Indian Tricolour, all the way, and then came on stage to say his piece, that he was fasting for the day. An illiterate farmer from Anna Hazare's hometown, who in chaste Marathi, told us about Anna Hazare's background, cheerfully admitting that it was the first time he was holding a mike in his hand, and addressing any kind of audience.

Parivartan laney key like samay aur samaj chahiye. Ab hamare paas dono hain. Agar abhi nahin to kabhi nahin. (To usher in change, we need understanding and time. Now we have both. If not now, then never.)

"I got tired of reading the number of zeros in the amount of money swindled, but these guys did not get tired eating up this amount of money."

A blind man was helped to his seat.

A sixth standard girl: "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star, Anna Hazare is the Super Star."

And finally the one casualty of the day. Dipesh, an 18-year-old student, on the fifth day of his fast, who collapsed on stage while addressing the audience. "Sorry I don't have the energy to share my poem, but ..." A collective gasp rose from the participants. Dipesh was promptly attended to by volunteer doctors who have been available 24x7 to care for the fasters. Another person took the mike and said calmly, "He is being taken care of, do not worry." And the next person came on stage, exhorting the audience with the cry: "Vande Mataram. Don't worry, I too am fasting. Nothing will happen to me."

Another speaker said: "See how much these people are going through. How much more does the government want to torment them?" Torment indeed. The police have not given permission for the fasters to sleep on the site. So every day, they have to go to a dormitory a few km away, kindly provided by a Jain Association, rest there and come back the next day. Think about doing that on the fifth day of a fast.

The rest of the day went off in a blur. Speaker after speaker, slogan after slogan. Fifty more in line to speak. The atmosphere was electric. I too felt no hunger. I stopped taking notes. It was clear that history is in the making. The genie is out of the bottle. And it can't be put back.

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