The Resurgence of Hunger Strike as a Method of Protest
In the past few weeks, fasting has emerged as a method of choice among social activists and political leaders to protest on various issues. Be it to seek justice for minor rape victims, end corruption or to oppose the parliament impasse. The likes of Swati Maliwal, Anna Hazare, Narendra Modi and Rahul Gandhi have resorted to fasting to show their protest.
Just yesterday Maliwal, the DCW chairperson, ended her ten-day long fast after the President of India consented to an ordinance which penalizes rapists of children below 12 years with the death sentence. Maliwal’s ten-day hunger strike, along with nationwide agitation over the Kathua rape and murder case, played a vital role in the enactment of this ordinance.
So why is it that after all the vigils, bandhs and dharnas, leaders and activists are coming back to the humble and the sacrificial method of fasting?
The Father of the nation, Mahatma Gandhi introduced several non-violent methods of protesting against the British before independence. One of which was the hunger strike. The important thing about this method was that it was not dependent on mass gatherings. A fast could be observed by just one person or many, and yet it would have the desired impact. Modern India had almost stopped talking about hunger strikes, until Hazare brought it back in 2011, in his fight against corruption.
Fasting shows strong resolve and a commitment to social good at the cost of personal sacrifice.
Unlike other methods, a hunger strike shows its observers dedication to the cause every second, minute, hour or day. Also, it builds up slow and consistent pressure on authorities on moral grounds. The deteriorating health of the person observing a hunger strike is on those against whom the fast is directed.
It is a selfless act, which is much harder to observe than candlelight vigils or holding bandhs. Probably this image of selfless dedication to social causes is what pulls modern politicians towards it. But have modern politicians reduced this act of self-control to a mere publicity stunt? Do we even care about people fasting anymore, now that we know what politicians do before or after observing fasts? (Chhole Bhature anyone?) Moreover, how seriously are we to take these politicians and their intent, if their fasts last barely a couple of hours?
What is supposed to be a peaceful and powerful way of putting across a social agenda is fast being reduced to a farce.
Using hunger strike for political publicity and gains takes away the selflessness and dedication associated with this act. Today, fasting is more in news for political squabbles than the intent. It has become a running joke to fast for a couple of hours and gain media and public attention.
But politicians in our country need to stop trivialising such practices. They should understand that this practice has played a very important role in causing a social revolution. In fact, by making half-hearted efforts to observe a fast, politicians are losing respect.
It is commendable that many people in our country are opting for a method of protest which does not culminate in violence and damage to public property. Our politicians however, should leave hunger strikes to those who actually understand the meaning of these two words.
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are author’s own.