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From T-shirt activism to Jantar Mantar

Even as everyone cried themselves hoarse demanding an end to the rampant corruption plaguing the nation, have things changed for the people who joined the protest? Shakeel Sobhan asks.

delhi Updated: Apr 19, 2011 16:47 IST
Shakeel Sobhan

The fast has ended. The candles have burnt-out. The slogans have ceased. The songs have faded away.

Jantar Mantar now lies as desolate as it did in the days before Anna Hazare's protest. There are only few subtle signs which bear witness to the mass rally against corruption that India saw. A rally which found resonance in other parts of India and even among Indians abroad.

But even as everyone cried themselves hoarse demanding an end to the rampant corruption plaguing the nation, have things changed for the people who joined the protest? Not even going into the means, how fulfilling was the ends. Have they changed? We have stopped paying bribes, say all, but has everyone ceased being corrupt, in the little ways we all are.

A 21-year-old Delhi University student who was a part of the anti-corruption protests said, "I had the time of my life. We shouted, we sang. It felt like I was part of something, a movement. Like the ones in West Asia." His fingers twiddled with the iPod in his hand. On being asked where he got the MP3 songs for his portable music player, he nonchalantly replied that he downloaded them. When asked if he considered illegal downloading as copyright infringement, he said he did not think so because "music is meant to be passed on and all musicians are rich."

But music piracy is corruption in its own right. A 2008 Ernst & Young survey says loss to the Indian music industry due to piracy is Rs 143.8 crore ($325mn) a year.

A popular group on Facebook which had only days earlier pledged its support to Anna Hazare's cause, recently posted asking if anyone knew where to download a certain movie. When someone pointed out that it was piracy, the poster justified it by saying that it was a relatively unknown movie and he did not know where to get it.

The same E&Y report said that movie piracy costs the Indian film industry Rs 424.3 crore ($959mn) and 571,896 jobs.

So, does our skewed definition of corruption justify our treatment of it?

Maybe this is why Neeraj Jha, a journalist, terms the protesters "slactivists". He said, "Many people who term themselves activists and the real warmongers against corruption and wrongs in governance have fallen prey to a trend, where they think since they can't bring any transformation so they should be satisfied and do their business (of protesting) and this is where they forfeit the very purpose they once stood for --- they are in fact doing more damage to the society as people think them to be some of the genuine vanguards of society."

A similar view is echoed by Anagha Ingole, an M Phil student of Jawaharlal Nehru University, "India is a classic case study of when protest is fashionable. The people who were protesting had no analytical view of the bill they were protesting for."

So is corruption only the bribes paid to politicians and government officials? Or can it even be something as small as not paying for your ticket on a DTC bus?

When Rajendra Joshi, an MNC employee, said, "At times we do things which we don't know or don't consider as corruption." He probably did not know how true he was.

Corruption, in the society, has been ingrained in a way as strongly as our traditions passed down over the ages. At times its existence is subtle and unassuming. But it is never too late to start over afresh.

The songs of protest may have faded, but let's not let them die.