Indian activist begins "fast-unto-death" hunger strike to end corruption

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Jantar Mantar observatory in Delhi, site of Hazare's fast.

Indian social activist and reformer Anna Hazare, 72, joined a nationwide protest campaign against an anti-corruption bill on Tuesday by beginning a "fast-unto-death" hunger strike at Jantar Mantar observatory in Delhi. He and 100 of his supporters began fasting to protest the bill, known as the Ombudsman bill, when the government did not accept their demand that the opinions of citizens be considered in the formation of the bill.

Participants in the nationwide campaign called "India Against Corruption" claim the proposed anti-corruption bill is too weak because the ombudsman is given no enforcement mechanisms and lacks wide investigative powers. Their goal is to strengthen the bill and give it teeth. They seek to create a citizen ombudsman free from political influence, that would accept citizen input, and could investigate charges against public officials including the prime minister’s office.

"I have written so many letters to the prime minister asking for time to meet and discuss. No reply," said Hazare. "Everybody is drowned in corruption. I will fast until I die for the cause of cleaning up the system."

Corruption is an entrenched feature of life in India, from minor fees paid to avoid trumped up charges to massive fraudulent scams by government officials. A recent string of high-profile allegations of corruption have shaken financial confidence in India's economy, the third largest in Asia.

Everybody is drowned in corruption. I will fast until I die for the cause of cleaning up the system.

—Anna Hazare, social activist

The series of costly corruption scandals in the past six months have resulted in enormous public outrage that has embarrassed the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, including problems in funding the 2010 Commonwealth Games, a multi-billion telecom licensing scam involving a cabinet minister, and a land fraud scheme in which bureaucrats appropriated apartments intended for war widows in Mumbai.

Although hunger strikes are a common political tactic in India, millions of Indians have joined the recent anti-corruption campaign. Supporters of Hazare have crowed Jantar Mantar observatory where Hazare has completed his third day of fasting. More than 80,000 friends have joined his Facebook page.

The Ombudsman bill was first drafted 42 years ago, but has never been passed by parliament in the 10 times it has been proposed.

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