The man who spurred the indifferent youth of India to voice their opinions against rampant corruption, Anna Hazare is one of the country’s most respected social activists. Hazare, a proponent of the non-violence movement frequently conducts hunger strikes to bring social issues of concern into limelight so that the political parties take action. Well into his seventies, the elderly gentleman has dedicated the major part of his life to making his village and country a better place. Born as the eldest son into a poor family in rural Maharshtra, he witnessed very difficult times during his childhood. He went on to work in the army where he survived a road crash and was the lone survivor when the underground Naga rebels attacked his army post. These incidents made him realize that his life was spared for a specific purpose and dedicated the rest of his life to service. Back home, at the village of Ralegan Siddhi in Maharashtra, he was pained to see how under developed the place was. He organized a group of like-minded people and transformed the place into a model village within years. Taking forward his social work, he began conducting hunger strikes to make political parties take note of burning social issues.
Childhood & Early Life
He was born as Kisan Baburao Hazare in a village near Ahmednagar as the eldest son of Baburao Hazare and Laxmi Bai. He has six siblings. His father was an unskilled laborer and the family struggled to make ends meet.
A relative took upon himself the responsibility of educating Anna Hazare and took him to Mumbai where he was admitted into a local school. However, due to financial strains the relative had to discontinue the boy’s education while in seventh standard.
Anna Hazare started earning his livelihood by selling flowers at the railway stations. He was hardworking and soon set up two flower shops of his own.
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He joined the Indian Army in 1960. He was trained at Aurangabad and initially he worked as an army truck driver.
He was posted at the border in the Khem Karan sector during the Indo-Pakistan War in 1965 where he miraculously survived an enemy attack. This incident shook him and for a time he even considered committing suicide.
However, war time experiences in which he emerged to be the sole survivor made him think about the meaning of life. He began reading the works of great minds like Swami Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave which made him realize that he should be doing something purposeful in his life.
During his stint in the army he was posted at different places like Punjab, Sikkim, Bhutan, Mizoram, Maharashtra, and Jammu. He was honorably discharged from the army in 1975 after 15 years of service.
He returned to his native village of Ralegan Siddhi and was dismayed to find it plagued by the issues of abject poverty, water problems, alcoholism and hopelessness. He was determined to do something about it.
He gathered some like-minded youths and organized a ‘Tarun Mandal’ or Youth Association to work towards rebuilding the village. Alcoholism was a major problem affecting the men and the Mandal helped to close down over thirty liquor breweries.
Followed their success in controlling alcoholism, the youths also decided to ban the sale of other intoxicating and dangerous substances like tobacco and cigarettes, which are now no longer sold there.
In a bid to increase literacy in the Ralegan Siddhi area he helped to start a pre-school in 1976. Encouraged by the response the Mandal went on to build a high school in 1979.
The village was also short of food grains to feed its population and Hazare started a Grain bank in 1980 to solve this problem. The farmers with surplus grains would donate grains to the bank which the farmers in need would borrow. The borrowing farmers would return the grains along with an extra amount as interest when they could afford it.
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He advised the people on how to improve irrigation facilities in the village and encouraged them to grow pulses and oilseeds which had lower water requirements. He helped the farmers in not just his own village, but also in 70 other villages to improve their cropping patterns.
Under Hazare’s moral leadership, the people of his village learned to shun traditional evil practices like untouchability and caste discrimination. In this village, the dalits or the so-called lower castes, form an integral part of the socio-economic life of the villagers.
He was distressed by the corruption in India and started a new venture called Bhrashtachar Virodhi Jan Aandolan (BVJA) in 1991 which was a public movement against corruption.
In 2003, he went on an indefinite hunger strike at Azad Maidan in Mumbai to campaign for the Right to Information Act. After his numerous protests, the President finally signed the draft of the RTI Act which was implemented in 2005. Hazare traveled all over the country after the implementation, spreading awareness about the Act.
He initiated a Satyagraha movement in 2011 to press the Indian government to pass the anti-corruption Lokpal Bill in the Indian Parliament. He went on hunger strikes and many Indians were motivated by his non-violent means of protests. The Lokpal Act was finally passed in 2013.
He was the major force behind the transformation of the village Ralegan Siddhi from a poverty ridden, hopeless place with a huge population of alcoholics and drug addicts to a “Model Village” based on sustainable development.
Hazare played a key role in persuading the Government of India to pass the The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Act, 2013. He had been campaigning for years, often going on indefinite fasts in his bid to make the government take action towards creating a strong anti-corruption act.
Awards & Achievements
He was awarded the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian award in India, in 1990 in recognition of his social work. He had threatened to return the award during many of his protests.
In 1992, he was presented with the Padma Bhushan, the third highest civilian award in India, for his relentless contributions towards the betterment of society.
Personal Life & Legacy
Anna Hazare is a bachelor. The term “Anna” means elder brother in Marathi, and that’s how he is fondly called by the citizens of India. He lives a very austere life in a single room attached to a temple.
This great social activist was portrayed by the actor Arun Nalawade in the Marathi film ‘Mala Anna Vhaychay’.