Ajith: Indian youth hit streets to protest corruption

Ani Ajith

As the Arab Spring continues to unfold, its shock waves have spread far and wide, hitting the shores of India with resounding force. Images of Egyptian youth and other average citizens taking to the streets helped ignite a movement in my motherland that promises to simultaneously shake the core of a corrupt political system and awaken the latest generation to a long-forgotten yet inherently Indian sense of civic duty.

Over the past few months in India, a 75-year-old social activist and army veteran has led this wave of protests, garnering widespread national support by going on indefinite hunger strikes with the sole purpose of eliminating rampant corruption in government. Anna Hazare’s efforts are without precedent in the last several decades. Indeed, not since the early days of the Indian Republic have citizens-especially young adults-protested against the government in such large numbers or with such fervor.

Politicians, backed rather openly by the wealthy, are criticizing Anna Hazare’s chosen forms of protests, even as the government reluctantly capitulates to his demands to strengthen legislation creating a non-partisan, investigative, anti-graft body beyond the corrupting touch of politicians.

The ruling Congress party claims that indefinite fasts put undemocratic pressure on elected leaders in Parliament, who are the only ones constitutionally empowered to make laws tackling corruption. These defenders of the status quo insist civil disobedience has no place in this “vibrant, thriving” democracy.

Their criticism hasn’t swayed India’s youth-myself included-because we have finally found our hero in a man willing to cheerfully force us out of our comfort zone and out onto the streets.

A brief primer on modern Indian history: through nonviolent tactics like massive civil disobedience, regular protests and, yes, indefinite hunger fasts, Mahatma Gandhi brought the British government to its knees. His strategies were undoubtedly preferable to violent methods, and were inherently democratic; Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., would draw inspiration from them decades later.

Gandhi’s strategies are praised and admired in modern Indian classrooms as brilliant and breakthrough. The British government was unreasonable, unjust and undemocratic-so the use of indefinite fasts and civil disobedience was justified.

The tens of thousands of young workers and students protesting on the streets of Indian cities and the millions of others who support them (half of India’s population is under 25) find these tactics to be once again justified.

We believe India’s “vibrant, thriving democracy” is actually an ugly, sprawling politician-police-criminal nexus masked by bought-and-paid-for “free and fair” elections. We believe the current system of government can no longer rule effectively and with credibility, plagued as it is by massive corruption scandals reaching across all major parties. We the youth believe Anna Hazare’s efforts represent the only real chance we have of reducing the corruption threatening to derail the nation’s economic growth.

By streaming out of IT companies and universities to join protests on the streets or simply by donning hats and armbands indicating our support, we have become the true inheritors of both Mahatma Gandhi’s legacy and of the reigns of our country. Our Spring starts now.

Ani Ajith is a Weinberg sophomore.

He can be reached at [email protected]