Associated Press photographer Saurabh Das’ excellent picture as published by The New York Times
The harder I try not to find quirks in the Anna Hazare saga in Delhi the less I succeed. This brilliant news shot by the AP’s Saurbh Das, for instance.
The first instant thought, without any reflection whatsoever, that came to my mind was, “I know he is now a saint but does he need so many physicians at once?” This is like a Broadway musical moment. My congratulations to Saurabh.
Another standout moment happened yesterday when Hazare got up on the stage to tell his supporters about his firm resolve not to call off his fast despite the physicians’ advice to get hospitalized. He said his “antar atma” (conscience) told him, “Why are you scared of dying?” “If you say that you can die for the nation, then why are you scared?”
He then went on to exhort his supporters that if the authorities tried to forcibly take him away to a hospital, they should obstruct them. An aide whispered in his ear quite obviously reminding Hazare to remind the crowds to be “non-violent and peaceful” as they obstructed the authorities.
As is my wont, I immediately began to parse those words. Here is a man putting his own life on the line to create what is probably the single most authoritative legal and investigative institutional structure in India’s history which demands total compliance by millions of people serving in some official capacity or another. Yet, in the same breath he is urging his supporters to happily violate another law that expressly prohibits suicide in any form, including by fast unto death.
Under the current law the Indian authorities are required to intervene if they apprehend that the protestor on a fast unto death might actually die and forcibly hospitalize that person. Any form of suicide is an offence under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code and punishable with a simple prison term of up to one year and a fine.
I remember a 2006 case involving a 93-year-old Jain woman called Kaila Devi Hirawat who was on the Jain practice of Santhara which essentially means one starves oneself to death in a consciously considered decision. Kaila Devi’s action led to a major debate among legal experts, human rights activists and religious leaders.
So here is my question. Can one lead a political agitation using all the legitimate means of protest in favor creating a far reaching law enforcement institution with sweeping powers and simultaneously encourage others to violate a law that already exists on the statute books? If one is an absolutist, the way Hazare appears to be, when it comes to following the law of the land in letter and spirit, can one also be expedient as well?