Thursday, September 1, 2011

Anna's Warriors

There’s no denying the fact that it’s the inspirational leadership of Anna Hazare and tactical insight of his team that coerced the parliament to agree to the three contentious issues of Jan Lokpal bill ‘in principle’. However, we can’t credit less the contribution of millions of ‘foot soldiers’ across the country who took to the streets in support of this 74 year old Gandhian and wrote history in the process.
At Ramlila grounds, I interviewed a lot of people and every story had its own flavour but some stories simply stood out.

The beauty of this movement was that to be Anna’s warrior, strength of your soul took precedence over strength of your body which was clearly demonstrated by Mr Manoj Dawar, an entrepreneur who owns a Gym and a Salon in Delhi. He has spent half of his life on a wheel chair, thanks to a Spinal Cord injury in an accident 22 years back but that didn’t stop him from coming to Ramlila Grounds and articulating his opinion. “Why is the govt. shying away from an open debate? Let intellectuals and experts discuss on the bill and if Jan Lokpal provides the solution to the rampant corruption, why not?” he suggested.

Meet Chaand Singh, Driver with a company that works under contract with MCD. His job was to pick the huge dustbins overflowing with litter installed throughout the ground in his truck and replace them with fresh ones. I asked him how different he finds his work at Ramlila Grounds compared to other days. He responded, “yeh to Janseva hai” (this is public service). When I inquired if it’s not “janseva” other days, he quipped, “aur din to hum pi ke pade rahte hain” (on other days, we just Drink and while away our time)! That was one of the most honest acknowledgements I had ever heard. He further added that “generally, we call it a day after 6-7 rounds but today, we are working since morning, must have picked 15-20 dustbins and it’s still going on”. It was 3PM already!

Chaand Singh’s helper, Raju, told me that he and his colleagues live in a house provided by the company, if that can be called a “house”. It has no bedding, no electricity, no drinking water and no washroom facility! “It’s like pigs living in a shed”, Chaand Singh intervened with an analogy. “We have to buy pouches of water to drink. We hardly save anything and to add insult to injury, company doesn’t pay us our legitimate wages and we don't get any receipt of our Provident Fund deductions”. I felt that if anyone needs Janlokpal badly, it’s these guys.

Now let’s meet Mrs Tarika Ekka, mother of two from Chattisgarh who took a week off from her work and family responsibilities to support Anna. Her family was under the impression that she was heading to Jabalpur till she reached New Delhi along with her brother and informed them. “They wouldn’t have let me come otherwise” she clarified. A victim of corruption herself in Police dept., Administration and judiciary, she had jotted down her thoughts in a letter addressed to Anna Hazare.

Anna didn’t only wake up the Indians but he captured the imagination of people around the world. One such couple was Stef Van Hulst and Pebby Werring from Holland who were holidaying in Nepal when they saw the news about Anna’s protest. Without further ado, they flew down to Ramlila grounds to show their support to Anna and witness this historic moment. In their peculiar accent they said, “This movement is very important for the history of India”. They left the ground in the evening while waving to Anna to fly back to Kathmandu.

Sachin Gupta(third from left) with his’water’ team at Ramlila grounds.
Photo courtesy: Kapil Syal
If there was one thing that was most sought after at Ramlila grounds, after Anna Hazare, it was water. And to provide it to hundreds of thousands of people coming there every hour was a daunting task in itself. Sachin Gupta, a businessman, took up that challenge and executed it with finesse. He and his team of volunteers built everything from scratch including a warehouse and distribution counters. “Getting clearances from the police to let the supply vans enter every time is very frustrating” he said. Sachin, who has also worked in US as a software engineer, said,“ I have met a lot of influential people like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton etc. but if there’s one person to whom I can give my Soul, that’s Anna”.

While Anna was fasting, his supporters certainly needed to keep their energy levels high. Mr Tikayam Chauhan and many others like him were ensuring this with their Free Food Stalls which they very appropriately named as “Anna Ki Rasoi” (Anna’s Kitchen). The food was simple yet delicious and their service with a smile made it tastier. When Asked till what time they serve the food, “as long as the people come”, was his response. But the high point of the conversation came when I asked who was sponsoring the food; he unequivocally said – “ANNA” – and refused to mention the name of his trust/NGO. That was a sweet surprise in this publicity hungry world. May be it was “Anna Effect”.

(from left) Kanishka cheers while Simran and Iqra offers Anna Coconut water & Honey.
Image Courtesy- AP photo/Rajesh Kumar Singh
Among all these grown ups, there was this little soldier of Anna who was second to none in her enthusiasm. What set her apart was her charismatic smile and indefatigable spirit. Seven year old kanishka is a class two student and was consistently present at the grounds along with her mother. She would wave the Tricolor for hours at a stretch while donning the “I am Anna” cap. Even Anna Hazare couldn’t resist himself from waving to her. She was one of the three little girls present on the stage who helped Anna to break his 13 day marathon fast on 28th August.

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