By Adnan Abidi
The joy of being born in a free country is a gift I received from those who sweat and bled in the struggle for Indian Independence. I accept the fact that I do very little to appreciate that gift. The most I do is fly a kite on August 15th, like many others. Quite a few of my fellow ‘post-independence born’ countrymen have little clue about the struggles our martyrs undertook to achieve what, today, we enjoy with much ingratitude. Freedom has been taken for granted.
The first struggle of Indian Independence was unknown to me, the second, as popular support named it, was the one I witnessed. It was when a 74-year-old Gandhinian, Anna, mobilized a crowd of over a million to crusade against corruption they say has infiltrated to the very roots of the Indian administration.
It was a much-watched movement that kept most of the country glued to their televisions for thirteen days. The media became a window for the 1.21 billion population. And I, as part of that window, got a chance to hold up Anna Hazare’s campaign to the world. The call against corruption came on the same day that India achieved its independence back in 1947, and in the same month as Ramadan, which fell in August this year. Following tradition, I was celebrating my independence by flying a kite when I received two calls — one from a fellow colleague, who informed me that Anna Hazare was praying at Rajghat, and the second from my Amma (mother), who asked me to get dates and fruits, traditionally eaten to end the day’s fast. I was at a crossroads and I had to choose my path.
Handing over the kite’s string to my friend I rushed home, picked up my gear and headed to Rajghat, forgetting about the dates I was asked to bring. Mahatma Gandhi’s memorial isn’t a place I often visit unless on an assignment. So it was that day, when yet again I realized I was one of the last photographers to reach. I shot many frames from all possible angles.
Generations before me had witnessed the power of Indian media as it was instrumental in bringing about the required change. What follows is one such example.
Reflecting on those strenuous thirteen days, the first thing I remember is loosing two kilos (4 pounds) without fasting compared to Anna, who lost more than seven kilos (15 pounds) during his anti-corruption movement.
Events started to unfold as I received information that the police intended to detain Anna even before he started his hunger strike.
I reached the place where Anna was staying at 6am, and saw hundreds of Anna caps; the Nehru cap rechristened! As I ran towards a gate where hundreds of supporters were gathered, a sudden call alerted me to Anna’s march alongside his supporters to a pre-designated spot from where he was to launch his movement against corruption. Supporters surrounded the police vehicle where Anna was detained. I made my way through the supporters and reached the window of the vehicle. I kept shooting continuously as the vehicle moved at a snail’s pace, obliging the crowd of supporters.
The Gandhian activist appealed to his supporters and followers to maintain peace and willingly court arrest. An appeal that led the police to turn a stadium into a day jail for supporters; that’s where I found myself until evening that day. It was yet another call that took me to Tihar Prison complex when I learned that Anna was to be released that same night. It was 11.30pm when news came in that he had refused to leave the jail, until he was allowed a proper place to continue his peaceful protest, one of the fundamental rights of every Indian.
As I headed back home, I knew in the back of my mind that this was just the beginning. And, right I was. The next day I found myself near the gates of Tihar prisons yet again. For the next four days everyday from 6am until 9pm, myself along with fellow journalists awaited Anna’s exit. It was Friday when Anna Hazare’s team member Kiran Bedi announced that he would leave Tihar at noon.
At 9am I climbed a police barricade to get a safe photo position to capture the moment when Anna would step out of the prison gates, seeing thousands of people gathered in support of his crusade. As the moment drew closer the number of supporters multiplied. A three kilometer (1.8 mile) long road was completely packed with supporters all shouting “I am Anna Hazare” in various languages.
It started to rain heavily the moment Anna Hazare greeted the crowd and climbed onto an open truck, in which he would travel so that his followers and supporters, many who had waited for three days, could catch a glimpse of their leader. I ran as fast as I could to get an elevated position to capture an iconic image of Anna waving at thousands of supporters. And I am pleased to say I did get my shot. But it was five days later when I was back in office that I realized not only had my camera given up on me but I had lost my first kilo.
The action continued. The authorities that were initially unwilling to let Anna fast for more than three days at a small park, had agreed to allow him to continue his movement at Ramlila Grounds. Anna had become a nationwide phenomenon, the epicenter of all national discussions. He was referred to as the torchbearer of the fight for the “Second freedom of Indian Independence”. The Indian media amplified Anna’s voice to make him a household name. Anna means Big brother and people started seeing Hazare as the second Mahatma Gandhi.
Mahatma Gandhi –- father of the Nation — whereas Anna Hazare was the elder brother of the Nation. I, as a part of the Indian media, covered nine more days of Anna’s struggle alongside fellow media representatives. The thirteen day fast literally brought the government to its knees with even the Indian Prime Minister in Parliament, saluting Anna Hazare for his struggle and appealing to him to end his fast.
The media plays a major role in bringing about change and has emerged as a integral part in India’s change towards development.
Leaving India Gate at 9pm after a long day covering Anna breaking his fast to the joyous celebration of his supporters, I ordered a cup of tea at my regular hangout as I figured that I had lost another kilo. I took a sip from the steaming hot cup and said to myself “Me Anna Hazare Ahe” (I am Anna Hazare too).