New Delhi: With Anna Hazare stealing much of the media limelight,
social activists this year mounted a determined offensive over
issues ranging from corruption and black money to tribal rights.
While social activism has for long been an important part of the
world's largest democracy, the trend got a boost from the
anti-corruption movement of Hazare, who became the face of India's
war on corruption.
A former army driver, Hazare fasted in Delhi thrice this year,
forcing the government to take steps to unveil an independent body
with powers to investigate and prosecute corrupt officials.
The 74-year-old from Maharashtra caught the imagination of
millions. Thousands took to the streets in support, waving the
tricolour and the now famous 'I am Anna' caps and T-shirts.
Shadab Fayaz, a Delhi University student who has been
participating in anti-graft protests in the capital, sees "a
change India is witnessing for the founding of a better and more
"It has become easier for leaders like Hazare to seek support for
any cause through social networking sites, internet forums and
SMSes. We have seen a rise in the awareness among students," he
said. "They are becoming participatory rather than silent
Hazare apart, there were other movements in small towns and cities
that marked the dawn of a new revolution in India.
In July, social worker Nileema Mishra, who works in the field of
micro-credit, was named one of the two winners of the Ramon
Magsaysay Award, the other being Harish Hande, founder of a solar
power company that seeks to bring electricity to rural areas.
The 39-year-old Mishra got major recognition for her work among
poor villagers that led to 1,800 women's self-help groups in
Jalgaon and other parts of Maharashtra.
On June 4, yoga guru Baba Ramdev, taking a leaf out of Hazare's
book, commenced an indefinite hunger strike in Delhi's Ramlila
Maidan to protest against corruption and black money.
Thousands of his followers trooped to the site. But in less than
24 hours, a police crackdown ended the demonstration before it
gained greater momentum. Ramdev later went low profile but
continues to speak against graft and the government.
In Himachal Pradesh, Rattan Manjari, 59, took on patriarchal laws
that bar tribal women from inheriting property in the hill state.
She and her supporters daily visit a village in tribal areas to
create awareness about her movement that has seen thousands
rallying behind her for amendments to the customary laws.
Down south, a 75-year-old activist in Tamil Nadu successfully led
a legal battle that saw several commercial establishments in
Chennai's busy T. Nagar area sealed by authorities for violating
The activist, popularly known Traffic Ramaswamy, is a former mill
worker and a self-appointed traffic policeman -- as much of his
activism relates to regulating traffic in Chennai.
He has forced authorities to demolish road encroachments, restrict
motorised fish carts and decongest major bus routes by banning
In Kashmir, women activists are rarely heard of. But Parveena
Ahangar, 51, is an exception.
Ahangar, who has had no formal education, has mobilised mothers
who even after decades of the conflict in the state do not know
where their missing sons are.
Ahangar's fight started after her 17-year-old son, Javed Ahmad,
was allegedly picked up by security forces mistaking him for a
militant. Since then, she has fought for justice not only for
herself but for all the distraight mothers.
Not all movements have been free from controversies. While
Hazare's associates face regular allegations of being fronts for
political parties, many activists were accused of graft and shady
But the intervention from social activist fills a vital vaccum,
according to Faheem Iqbal, a sociology lecturer in Delhi
Iqbal said that there was a danger of such movements becoming
"clinical strikes if it turns out to be mere symbolism".
"You have to sustain the movement till the change you are fighting
for comes. Otherwise, relying on this symbolism becomes dangerous
for further awakening for a society," Iqbal told IANS.
(Sarwar Kashani can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)