What Anna Hazare has proved again - Change begins in Maharashtra

Last Updated: Fri, Apr 15, 2011 10:01 hrs

So Anna Hazare has just won a major victory for the citizens of India, reeling under season upon season of scams of all shades and hues.

Coming on the back of the cricket World Cup victory, suddenly April 2011 looks like a month of great hope.

Millions cheered MS Dhoni's winning six. And millions cheered Anna's breaking of his fast after the government bowed down to his demands on the Lokpal Bill, a major move forward in taking corruption head on.

But what amazes me is Maharashtra's capacity to churn out saints and social reformers virtually non-stop.

Most of them have the same mantra. Take one issue at a time and keep at it for years or decades as may be till a change is established. Many thus handled more than one issue in their lifetimes. Some of the transformations have been downright breathtaking. Anna Hazare comes from a long line of change-makers that the state has produced.

Some social reformers...

One of the first such reformers was Mahatma Jotiba Govindrao Phule, a rare person who shared the same title as Mahatma Gandhi. He began his campaign in the first half of the nineteenth century against female infanticide. He also started what was probably India's first school exclusively for girls and fought against untouchability.  

Maharshi Dr Dhondo Keshav Karve was also called Anna in his time. He worked tirelessly on the issues of women's education and widow marriage. Karve began his work in the late nineteenth century when fighting for women's rights was an uphill task. Change they say begins at home and he himself married a widow.

Throughout the 1890s, he started organisations that helped and gave shelter to widows. The society hit back, ostracising him. Refusing to be cowed down, he began a school and subsequently a university for women.

The nineteenth century also saw a host of great men who concentrated on social reform like Mahadev Govind Ranade, Balshastri Jambhekar, Ramakrishna Gopal Bhandarkar and Vitthal Ramji Shinde.  

At the turn of the century Chhatrapati Shahuji Maharaj of Kolhapur advocated education and employment for all, starting one of the first affirmative action movements in the world in 1902.

Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar was a reformer who fought for Dalit rights. Of course today he is seen more as a politician because of his role in India's first government after Independence. But he was famous much before that when in 1927, he led the agitation to open up public water bodies for the Dalits.

Acharya Vinoba Bhave was another stalwart, famous for his Bhoodan movement. Bhave traveled all over the land and urged the biggest landlords to donate their land to poor farmers. What started with a donation of 250 acres of land by a local landlord ended up with a staggering exchange of 5 million acres from the rich to the poor, one of the biggest examples of social change in the world!  

Baba Amte was a champion of those marginalised from the society. He set up ashrams for the differently-abled, leprosy victims and the poor. All that eventually morphed into Anandwan, which has a hospital and orphanage along with a school and university.    

This is not Anna Hazare's first brush with change. He transformed his barren village Ralegaon Siddhi from a barren den of drinkers to a lush green village which served as a model for the rest of India. After that, he campaigned against corruption in Maharashtra and many ministers had to resign. He has also been a proponent of RTI.   

Baba Amte's son Prakash worked for tribal rights and was recognised with a Magsaysay Award.

Pandurang Shastri Athavale's Swadhyay movement led to tree-planting and cooperative farming in thousands of villages.

The list is endless.

And some saints...

The most famous modern-day saint of Maharashtra is Shirdi's Sai Baba. His miracles and teachings have inspired millions to lead better and fuller lives.

Gadge Maharaj is another inspiration.

The patron saint of Vidarbha (eastern Maharashtra) is Gajanan Maharaj. It is said that ministers who visit his shrine in Shegaon lose their berth and politicians who come lose the next election! The saints of Maharashtra demand nothing but purity of heart!

The tradition probably began from the thirteenth century when Maharashtra had saints like Dnyaneshwar, Tukaram, Ramdas, Eknath and Chakradhar.

After Independence, there was a healthy competition among MPs and MLAs to see who would develop his constituency better. That led to Maharashtra becoming a powerhouse till the late 1990s. Sadly, it is a cesspool of corruption today and other states are marching forward.

But Anna Hazare has lit a torch in Jantar Mantar. Now it's up to the people to ensure that it becomes a blinding light, which will illuminate the entire nation.

Most of the social reformers and saints of Maharashtra succeeded in what they set out to do.

Let's hope Anna Hazare is successful in his latest nationwide mission too!

It has been the biggest assault against Scam India in recent times.    

The author is a Bangalore-based journalist and blogger. He blogs at http://sunilrajguru.com/