by Uzra Khan
(Uzra Khan ’12 is in Trumbull College. She is spending the summer reporting on various issues as she travels through India.)
While the rain pelts down in the city of Mumbai, I sit in the Hindustan Times office. It’s still the morning, and early in the day for a daily newspaper, especially early for the crime and investigation wing which I am a part of. But I know that in the next hour things are going to be very busy. Last night, four men were murdered in the city; their bodies were found strewn on a hill in the aftermath of a drunken brawl. This will no doubt be talked about by politicians in the state of Maharashtra who just succeeded in changing the drinking age from 21 to 25 (yes, the legal drinking age in Mumbai is now 25). There will be police reports to be translated from Marathi and interviews to be conducted.
In the meantime, during a brief walk around the office, I hear the same name and same thread of conversation on everyone’s lips: Baba Ramdev. He is the (in)famous yoga guru who, in the last few days, has made front page news every day for his ‘fast unto death,’ which he intends to follow until he sees visible government steps taken toward combating corruption.
Such fasts are not new to Indian politics. Started by Gandhi at the time of the Independence movement, a hunger strike against corruption undertaken by Indian social activist Anna Hazare a month or so ago made headline news. Hazare fasted in order to try and pass the Jan Lokpal bill, in reaction to various instances of corruption in government. This bill would create an independent body with the power to prosecute politicians and bureaucrats without government permission. Baba Ramdev (who flies a private jet, has two trusts that own over 1,000 acres of land, and earns over $245 million annually) professes leading the simple life, condemns black money, and is seen as the rather comic, yet disturbing, sequel to Anna Hazare.
Of course, this summary is a highly simplified version of a highly political debate, one that is ongoing and is currently receiving a lot of media coverage. Corruption is rife in India, and it acts as the friction that keeps things from running smoothly. Roads are of shockingly poor quality despite taxpayers’ money—because the money is pocketed. A fake driver’s license is a piece of cake to obtain. Bribing a cop if caught speeding (or, for that matter, if caught doing many other things too) is a commonality. How do you weed out this corruption when it has become completely institutionalized even in law enforcement? Are we really down to our last resort—a blackmailing of democracy through hunger strikes?
As two of my friends suggested, we should go on a hunger strike to protest the new drinking age (which will never be enforced anyway). I wonder what would happen if we did…
Back to work!