Peaceful Protest Against Govenment Corruption

from the Aug 16th New Indian Express

New Delhi:  The longtime Gandhian activist Anna Hazare has started a hunger strike on the anti-corruption bill that is in Indian Parliament now. This stand-off has grabbed headlines for a few weeks now, with Hazare threatening to hunger-strike. He started yesterday on Independence Day. Passerbys were surprised to see Hazare quietly meditating in the light rain, and quickly thousands of people gathered on the lawns of Gandhi’s samadhi in New Delhi. A few hours later, he was ‘preventively’ arrested by police, to the outcry of major political parties, NGOs and thousands of citizens, including the crowds outside the prison where Hazare is being held. By nightfall, the government backpedaled, issuing Hazare’s release. Parliament and the Prime Minister are in a tight spot, sitting on their hands for now.

The country is blowing up, with protests and demonstrations happening in cities everywhere. “Team Anna” is calling for government workers to not go to work today, while the government is predictably labeling this call to action as ‘the wrong call.’

In his Independence Day address, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh challenged Hazare’s tactics in his annual address to the nation, saying that  “We are taking the swiftest possible action in cases of corruption that have surfaced…we will put an end to such powers whenever possible…Hunger strikes do not solve the problem of corruption.”

Ok, then what will exactly? If the people do not put external pressure on their government, what will make legislators raise their heads and look up from their own self-interest and petty quibbles? I understand that doing things the right way, that the process is important, but sometimes a bit of urgency is necessary. Parliament wants Hazare to go away and let them do their jobs, but I would argue that paying some heed to the civil disobedience of the people is their job. This reminds me of the time that ASUO Senators got annoyed by OSPIRGers lobbying them for funding. It is your job to listen to your constituents, not only when you agree with them. I find it ironic that a day after celebrating India’s peacefully-won independence, the government is so quick to condemn the actions of someone who walks in the same footsteps as the freedom fighters of the 1940s.

Peaceful disobedience is much more powerful and scary for governments than violent riots, like those that have taken place in London.  Violent protesters do not hold much long-term credibility. In peaceful protests, all can participate, lving their enemies at the same time that they are pushing the envelope. Police efforts to subdue a peaceful crowd are seen as oppressors. Gandhi speaks beautifully of this power. From my new favorite book, Autobiography of a Yogi, the author Swami Yogananda talks to the Mahatma, or ‘great soul’:

“Non-violence is the natural outgrowth of the law of forgiveness and love. If loss of life becomes necessary in a righteous battle, one should be prepared, like Jesus, to shed his own, not others’ blood. Eventually there will be less blood spilt in the world.” 

He celebrated the beauty of President Wilson’s fourteen points, but said that he would reverse Wilson’s qualification that ‘we have our arms to fall back upon ‘if post WWI peace were to fail.’ “Our armaments have failed already. Let us now be in search of something new; let us try the force of love and God…we shall want nothing else.”