Saturday, April 9, 2011

India's Anti-Corruption Movement and What It Tells About Our World Today

It is an unfortunate truth of living as far away from India, as I do, that sometimes some very important developments in India go unnoticed, only because I passively opt to view the world from the lenses of the media that surrounds me immediately. Fox, CNN or WSJ certainly did not do first-day reporting on the Anti-corruption movement that had come to a climax in India on April 5-there are Libya and the looming US Govt shutdown to fill their front pages after all. And these are valid newsworthy topics. But then for those of us in exile---away from the land we once called home, there are always two sets of 'local news' that impact us immediately. One that concerns the place where we are currently located, and the other one which concerns the place where a piece of our heart resides, where a big bag of our memories comes from, and perhaps where so many of our loved ones still navigate the traffic-ridden roads in scorching summer sun and where they haggle with the vegetable vendor and where they go to coaching-centers to learn C++, and where they text away messages every minute on cell-phones and where they get together on the streets, on top of their cars to celebrate victory in a game of cricket.

In our physical 'local' news there are thefts, and homicides, and basketball wins, but rarely a line on a policeman being caught accepting bribes at a traffic light. Indeed, there is never news of a Councilman's son being given admission in a college only because his dad happened to be the Councilman. In our 'other' local news, such news abounds to the extent that we read and forget--familiarity breeds disinterest. 'Corruption is rampant in India' is a cliche, a truth and the accepted norm. This even became the premise on which corruption was further nurtured. 'I am helpless---its rampant!' came the oft-heard dismissal from anyone who was challenged to take an action, even as he was bribing his way out of a long line at the railway-ticket booth. And all this came to a screeching halt when the common man literally took to the streets on April 5. Anna Hazare--an epitome of modesty and selflessness and someone so truly a representative of the 'common man' gave his call for ending corruption, or fast until death. I missed this news altogether! Him giving the call, and then commanding the overwhelming response from people all over the country, is no ordinary news for an India whose biggest recent international games---the Commonwealth Games--were about to be totally sabotaged because of one of the biggest episodes of top-to-toe corruption in the games committee.

Anyhow, I caught up with the news finally, and felt proud and happy for the positive developments in India. I went on the various web-sites related to the movement, and it was not lost on me that the facebook and twitter logos promptly appeared on these pages. And even though I do not frequent facebook as often, I eventually did go on some of these facebook pages. And as expected, there is traffic on these sites! On the facepage of India Against Corruption alone (the umbrella body organising the recent movement) there are some 187,000 followers. I looked at its discussion board, and found that of the currently 369 active boards, some 120 were created before April 5. Can we make something of these simple statistics? Sure, we can---at least I would like to. The April 5 event was the bubbling of a soup that has been simmering for a while. People are connecting not just with classmates from the past, but also with like-minded strangers who want to be the change they wish to see.

The subtle but significant similarity of the electronic part of the process of India's movement with that of the processes that galvanised the recent democracy movements in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya , and rest of the middle-east, is both beautiful and empowering. After 9/11, Iraq and then the two Koreas' nuclear standoffs seemed to plunge this millennium into a new era of arms race and wars, the developments of this year so far, give an altogether different boost to the whole world. They give hope of how mankind may finally be learning to put its best innovation---the internet, to the best use after all. They give hope of how we common men and women may actually be realising the power we really wield though the simple clicks on the internet, and how we can divert public policy from undue international race for hegemony to honest democracy for our daily lives. India's democracy had appeared largely functional---our women go to school, and wear whatever they want or not, our temples often stand side-by-side with mosques, and we often elect the persons we want to from the ballot-list. Yet, we know that there are the finer nuances that need correction, in order from this framework of democracy to only gain flesh and not crumble. It is not easy for mere mortals to first realise the flaws in these nuances, and then to start waging a war against these. Yet, through the power to read about other movements, and through the power to connect with many and many mere mortals, we have risen as one Anna Hazare. As the button badges on the shirts of many supporters say, 'I am Anna'.

Even as I sit in an air-conditioned room of my apartment overlooking the Hudson river and the southern tip of Manhattan, I know I feel the sweat on the temples of those who sat fasting with Anna at Jantar Mantar in Delhi under the mid-day sun in temperatures upward of 80 degrees Fahrenheit. My salutations to all those who have dared to make this movement happen.

When in the Beyond

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