April 14, 2011

Anna and the logic behind hunger strikes

As a kid, whenever I sat down to do my homework, it felt like I was doing someone a big favor. The only thing I ever got in return was for all the trouble was “no punishment”. Now what kind of an incentive is “no punishment”? I knew right away, that life isn’t fair but luckily I found a way around.

I realized saying things like “I won’t eat till I get a new pencil box to complete my math homework” or “I won’t eat unless you let me watch TV for half an hour” usually gets good returns. And it worked for the first few times. When I was eight years old, I started a similar hunger strike but my Mom shot back saying “Fine, sleep hungry and get punished at school tomorrow!” That was the moment I was convinced that "not-eating" is not a good strategy to get things done in the adult world! Clearly, I am not cut out for Indian politics!

Notes on Anna

Unlike a lot of young people in India, I did not get all worked up about my support for Anna Hazare’s successful fast-unto-death. By the time I found time to do some research and pick a side, it was all over...

I am absolutely convinced about Anna Hazare’s good intentions but a little disillusioned with the solutions he proposed. Let’s not delve into details. I can't help but notice that hunger strikes still remain the most potent weapon in Indian politics. It is probably the most important legacy of Gandhi after the hundreds of M.G Roads with potholes and tons of black money with his face printed on it!


A professional hunger-striker?

Why are hunger strikes considered to be peaceful? Isn’t it an insanely passive aggressive thing to do? You are threatening to kill yourself for heaven’s sake! By what stretch of imagination is threatening to kill a person peaceful? I agree it is better than threatening to kill other people but that makes it only “relatively peaceful” or put it in a better way “peaceful only when quoted out of context!” Why do we omit the relative part of it?

Although Anna’s fast was ‘Gandhian’ in every sense of the term and not even a window pane was broken as a consequence of his fast, it is not the case for most of the hunger strikes that happen. For most politicians it is just a wonderful way to get a lot of attention, re-energize their bases and pump some enthusiasm into their party workers and basically kick some political ass!

Hunger Strikes as a Choreographed Media Event

Hunger strikes (especially when politicians do it) are always accompanied by enforced bandhs. Enforced bandhs as we all know makes traffic worse. Plus, there is always a chance for sporadic violence and ‘stuff’ burning activities where stuff begins with an effigy and ends with a fresh fleet of Volvo buses! If you play it safe and stay at home, you have to live with the News anchors on TV going frenzy and blazing live visuals of ugly-looking politicians sitting under a tree and not eating while better looking Bollywood celebs voice their support to the cause!

We see at least one major league politician go on a hunger strike every two or three months. Isn’t it vaguely suspicious that politicians never die in one of these fast-unto-deaths? Isn’t there enough evidence to suggest that not eating will lead to death? I decided to do some research on hunger strikes and I have some interesting results.

An Illustrated History of Hunger Strikes

Given that hundreds of people have got themselves into fasts-unto-death and that not all of them are successful, one wonders why the over all number of deaths is surprisingly low at four!

Why are politicians not dying of hunger?

Whenever a politician goes on a fast – his colleagues and the media are instantly worried about his health. Just after a couple of days, the docs shift him to a hospital and “force” feed him intravenously. Now that’s cheating isn’t it?

The whole point of a fast is to degenerate the body slowly by denying all nutrition. By injecting glucose water (with all the essential proteins and vitamins) into the bloodstream, they’re not denying nutrition to the body. They’re just cutting out the middleman (i.e. the digestive system) from the nutrition cycle! Technically it’s just dieting!

You see, fasting is a relatively simple game. There is only one rule: “Do not eat!” but with the saline bottles and the injections, it has been reduced to “You may eat but not with your hands!” making it very easy to pull off political stunts with choreographed media coverage which sometimes may involve the channels flashing the hunger-striker’s blood pressure and blood glucose levels live on TV!

P.S: I have written most of this post way back in December and have been waiting for someone to go on an indefinite hunger-strike. What can I say, I am like that! 


  1. No one could have done it better than you! Was so waiting for this! And I will not comment on the "Anna Strike", its like every Tom Dick and Harry are talking about it! Bleh!

  2. hmmm.. Hunger Strike wasn't peaceful... Patriotic Songs with disco beats... The crowd swooning away.. :)
    Its looked liked a chaos... But the most intriguing part was... everyone was smiling... Everyone looked happy... n even Anna had a mona lisa smile.. :P
    and as usual the vultures were there a.k.a media.. :)

  3. that was awesome! and yet we continue our hunger strikes

  4. @Addy: Thanks man!

    @Rashmi: you were there? this is the first first person account I'm hearing :)

    @sandykundra: yeah, that was my point... politicians are not dying as often as they should!

  5. Well, I guess people would die from hunger strikes only if they aren't given what they want. So it might be a good thing to find out how many hunger strikes were actually successful.. I mean.. if I get what I want, then starving to death would be kinda stupid..

  6. Isn't Chandigarh the shared capital of Punjab?

  7. hilarious post g2 :)
    i doubt that a 'hunger strike' is technically the same as a 'fast-unto-death'. The former just means you are sacrificing the gastronomic pleasures for a sufficient period of time while the latter shows the conviction to take the activity to the ultimate level i.e; death (till someone steps forward to take care of the rats running in his stomach :P)
    What our politicians do is a dramatic attempt at hunger strike.... only a few selfless people can go for a fast-unto-death and still fewer who really die for the cause.
    But today the swaying 'fourth pillar of democracy' has a lot of influence over the world. Maybe it is because of the excessive involvement by the media that some compromises are made quickly and the fasts called off!

  8. may i say "excellent graphics" ...

    mankind has a strange fixation with food ... and the threat of a lack of it ... and we use it very wisely .. indeed .. if you want some attention from your partner, just claim you haven't eaten all day ... also ... not to forget that least dangerous way to die is to do a well-publicized hunger strike ... :)

  9. yes, because of this media circus, I don't think we'll ever see hunger strikes that will go on for 60 days and 80 days (like in the days of yore) before the actual death! I don't think the media has the patience or the attention span for something like it!

  10. yes, it is a union territory and the shared capital.... He wanted it to be a part of Punjab.

  11. yes, the low over all deaths show that either the success rate of hunger strikes is quite healthy or people quit midway...

  12. What about Irom Sharmila who has been on a fast for the last ten years. Does anyone care about her and the state of insurgency in Manipur?

  13. Great post!! The 'hunger strikes' are very rationally analysed ;) Although Anna Hazare's 'fast unto death' was extremely genuine i believe, but as you said, hunger strikes are a very unsatiable way of getting things done!! But somewhere today, they are also a means of getting 'noticed' or 'heard'. As the saying goes, All is well, that ends well!! Cheers!

  14. Potti Sriramulu did not fast unto death for Andhra Pradesh.... He did it for separate Andhra from Madras state... It is really important to understand the difference...

  15. He fasted for a separate state for Telugu speaking people and it was supposed to be named 'Andhra Pradesh'... the committee which determined the borders included all Telugu speaking districts including the ones in the Hyderabad state into Andhra Pradesh.

  16. It is not.. In an effort to protect the interests of the Telugu people in Madras Presidency, and to preserve the unique culture of Telugu people, he attempted to force the government to listen to public demands for the separation of Andhra region from Madras Presidency based on linguistic lines.

  17. I don't think Potti Sreeramulu differentiated between Telugu people in Andhra and Telugu people in Telangana at that time. This is a case of looking and judging history through the lens of current events...

  18. I was also not completely on board with Anna Hazare's movement as much as I believe in his integrity. Maybe it was the cynic in me but I felt that getting the government to agree for a bill and then the committee that should chair it etc would dilute the motives behind the strike. Plus, dangerous precedents were set to allow for some demands. It was good to see the participation of middle class people and youth. Thats the only plus I took away from the movement.

  19. But hunger strike didn't word either. In large part due to corrupt media esp. English media.

    Leaving apart whether it is genuine or not, one can just ask themselves what other options are available for non politicians - and simple folk like Hazare - to force their message.

    There is a clear line between politicians doing hunger strike for their narrow interests and people with integrity - like Hazare - doing it. But, to expect corrupt media understand this is too much.

    Hazare was equally naive so as to let those fake and creepy celebrities like Mallika Sarabhai - created by media it self - to associate with himself. In the end, the poor man failed.

    He didn't see the reality that English media is anti people and thoroughly supportive of establishment ; despite its limited reach it is the one which decides policies and creates enlightened opinions. Can any one tell why this can not be called oligarchy or aristocracy.

    Last hope is gone for this country and we can continue to distance ourself from politics with all fan fare, pride and quotations.

    How much you really know about revolutions and people taking part in it? Recall like French Revolution, Russian revolution or latest Iranian revolution in 1979.

    In first two, it is said to be around 10% of population and last one, it is said to be about 20% of population. This is all it takes for a change?

    Think of democracy? solutions through dialog? It might work if media is impartial. But why should some one trust media when they are guided by profits and margins!

    The worst man doing hunger strike is Gandhi itself. Of course, concept of sathyagraha is attributed to him by 'ignorant' - not really ignorant but with malicious agenda - folks.....In most cultures it will not work at all.......

  20. yeah.. any revolution has to be led by an active participation from the middle class. The poor are usually too poor to care about the nation, the rich well, they are on top so change is not good for them. It is the middle class that have to come out on the streets to protest. That is the case with both French revolution and the recent ones in Egypt and Tunisia.

    That said, I know that Anna Hazare is a genuine guy who is not corrupt but he is also naive and he could be used as a front for the bad guys to do bad things... like all ministers did with Manmohan Singh as their "incorruptible" "leader"

  21. I am not even sure about the participation of the middle class and the youth... Liking facebook pages and tweeting against corruption from a computer with pirated windows is not really "supporting" anti-corruption!


don't be lazy