Friday, August 26, 2011

Who is Anna Hazare?

Anna Hazare is one of India's well-acclaimed social activists and prominent leader in the 2011 Indian anti-corruption movement, using nonviolent methods following the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.

Kisan Baburao Hazare popularly known as Anna Hazare born 15 June 1937 in Bhingar, a small village in Hingangaon near the city of Bhingar, in Bombay Province (present-day Maharashtra).

His father, Baburao Hazare, worked as an unskilled labourer in Ayurveda Ashram Pharmacy. Kisan's grandfather was working for the army in Bhingar, when he was born. His grandfather died in 1945, but Baburao continued to stay at Bhingar. In 1952, Baburao resigned from his job and returned to his own village, Ralegan Siddhi. Kisan had six younger siblings and the family faced significant hardships. Kisan's childless aunt offered to look after him and his education, and took him to Mumbai.

Kisan studied up to the seventh standard in Mumbai and then sought employment, due to the economic situation in his household. He started selling flowers at Dadar to support his family. He soon started his own shop and brought two of his brothers to Bombay.

In 1962, events in South Asia meant that large-scale army recruitments were being undertaken. Despite not meeting the physical requirements, 25-year-old Hazare was selected, as emergency recruitment was taking place in the Indian Army. After training at Aurangabad in Maharashtra he started his career in the Indian Army as a driver in 1963.
Earlier photo of
Anna Hazare

During the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965, Hazare was posted at the border in the Khem Karan sector. On 12 November 1965, the Pakistan Air Force launched air strikes on Indian bases, and all of Hazare's comrades were killed; he was the only survivor of that convoy. It was a close shave for Hazare as one bullet had passed by his head. He was driving a truck. This led him to dwell on the purpose and meaning of life and death.

He came across a small booklet titled "Call to the youth for nation building" by Swami Vivekananda in a book stall at the New Delhi railway station. He realised that saints sacrificed their own happiness for that of others, and that he needed to work towards ameliorating the sufferings of the poor. He started to spend his spare time reading the works of Vivekananda, Gandhi, and Vinoba Bhave.

Hazare was greatly influenced by Swami Vivekananda’s teachings. It was at that particular moment that Hazare took an oath to dedicate his life in the service of humanity, at the age of 26. He decided not to let go of a life time by being involved merely in earning the daily bread for the family. That’s the reason why he pledged to be a bachelor.

During the mid-1970s, he again survived a road accident while driving. It was at that particular moment that Hazare took an oath to dedicate his life to the service of humanity, at the age of 38. He took voluntary retirement from the army in 1978. He was honorably discharged from the Indian Army after completing 12 years of service.

During his tenure about five medals were apprised to Anna Hazare: Sainya Seva Medal, Nine Years Long Service Medal, Sangram Medal, 25th Independent Anniversary Medal, and Pashimi Star award.

At the age of 38, Mr. Hazare took voluntary retirement from the army and returned to his native village. Over the next few decades, he gained wide acclaim in his home state and at the national level for transforming his once drought-prone, impoverished village to a prosperous “model village” by encouraging sustainable farming and rural life as envisioned by Mahatma Gandhi, the Indian Independence leader often referred to as Gandhiji.

Mr. Hazare lives on his pension from army service in a room in the temple in his village and says his campaigns are financed by voluntary donations by his supporters. He is always seen in white clothes with a traditional Indian cap.

Such nationalistic calls and his record of espousing integrity and honesty in public life have endeared Mr. Hazare to India’s growing middle class, which frequently reviles its political leaders for the corruption that permeates everyday life. That has also thrust Mr. Hazare to the forefront of national movement against corruption following his public fast in New Delhi in April.

He has termed the current civil society’s movement against corruption as “India’s second freedom struggle,” and has asked all Indians to participate. Critics say he is using anti-democratic methods of moral coercion to force his will on the elected government.

In the 1990s, the federal government awarded Mr. Hazare with the Padma Bhushan and Padma Shri awards, the nation’s third and fourth highest civilian awards respectively, for his social work.

Care International of the USA, Transparency International, Seoul (South Korea) also felicitated him. Apart from this, he received awards worth Rs 25 lakh and donated the entire amount for the Swami Vivekananda Kritadnyata Nidhi (social gratitude fund). Out of the two lakh rupees received from the above amount, mass marriages are carried of at least 25-30 poor couples every year.

Inspired by Hazare’s unique approach of salvaging a hopeless village, the state government has implemented the `Model Village’ scheme as part of its official strategy. Hazare is now synonymous with rural development in India.

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