Sat 11 Jun, 2011 08:43 am
Democracy as an idea allows a spectrum of political structures for states to base themselves on. We have direct democracy such as practised in California on one end, we have India with its conservative representative democracy on the other. Each manifestation of democracy has its merits and demerits.
Informed and educated people are a necessity for a healthy democracy. Information tells people what is happening, and education helps them understand the information and make a judgement. What a citizen can do to act upon this judgement differs from one type of democracy to another. In one form of direct democracy citizens in sufficient numbers, if they feel the need, can move a bill to be put to vote by the people, and on passing it becomes a law. In a conservative representative democracy like India on the other hand, the only thing citizens can do is to try and convince their representatives to take up their issue, put up a bill in the parliament, and pass it. Or, they can wait till the next election and try to elect representatives that they believe will take up their issue.
People attempt several approaches in their quest to convince their representatives to take up their cause. Of course, simply trying to reason with them is the first avenue. If that fails, the next step in a democracy, whichever route they may take to achieve it, is to gain public attention (actually, in India, bribery is probably the second option). Some choose violence. Others might try to disseminate information about their cause to the public, and hope for gradual increase in public interest. The most effective however (in India anyway), is a hunger strike, a fast unto death.
A genuine hunger strike conveys the protester's seriousness and honesty, it is generally perceived that one does not choose a slow excruciating death facetiously or for malicious interest. What is problematic for me though, is the element of coercion that accompanies a hunger strike. In comparison, for example, a peaceful protest march numbering even hundreds of thousands of people, does not carry with it the same element of coercion. A hunger strike has a finality to it, its own brand of violence, a gun to the head. What is worse, when carried out by revered figures, it also carries a promise of violence to come, if the protester's demands are not met. Even Gandhi must have known, however much he urged the people against it, that his death on a hunger strike would be followed by massive civil unrest and violence.
I accept, as I said before, that it is a very effective tool. It's just that it is a sort of blackmail, with an element of coercion involved. I am not going to condemn it here however. I am not going to condemn someone who is putting their life on the line in an attempt to be heard. If the cause has public support, it'll be taken up by others. If not, well, they'll die fighting. I do propose however that a hunger strike be considered as an option only when all others have been exhausted.