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Anna Hazare - the keeper of the earth and human conscience
Apr 16, 2008 - 7:07:13 PM

Pune, April 16 - A name synonymous with multiple crusades, Anna Hazare, who has won the World Bank's 2008 Jit Gill Memorial Award for outstanding public service, has made a journey from despondency to courage, from humble beginnings to glorious heights.

The 70-year-old social worker, widely seen as a mini Mahatma Gandhi, strives to empower people through his crusades for the right to information. He perpetually keeps the high and mighty on their toes through his fights against corruption.

All this while his model of a self-sustained green village in a rain-starved region of Maharashtra throbs with life, beckoning visitors from all over the world to see the marvel.

Born in Bhingar village of Maharashtra's drought-prone Ahmednagar district in 1938, barely educated and bereft of worthwhile enlightenment save the school book rhetoric of patriotism, Kisan Baburao Hazare became an army recruit during the 1962 India-China war and served as a truck driver till 1975.

Sick of an uninspiring peacetime routine in the army and looking at war as futile, Anna Hazare, as Kisan Baburao Hazare is better known, struggled to seek the meaning of life. He even contemplated suicide when he could not find it.

'I attempted suicide twice. At the mental level, committed it umpteen times,' he would later tell school students coming to his Ralegan Siddhi ashram.

His miraculous escape from an enemy mortar attack that killed most occupants of his truck and maimed the remaining few made him think that his 're-birth' had a special significance. An exhortation of Swami Vivekananda likening service to humanity with service to god further boosted his resolve to live.

Back in his village after voluntarily retiring from the army in 1975, the scenario in the parched countryside - abject poverty, perennial drought and people steeped in addiction - again ignited bouts of depression. This time he resolved to do something to change the situation.

Anna finally swung into action when someone in the village stole the temple bell for liquor. The rest, as they say, is history - and also a living present.

There is paucity of rain even now in Ahmednagar district's Ralegan Siddhi and its surroundings. But a web of soil and water conservation structures - ponds, dug-wells, earthen bunds and percolation tanks - holds the little rainwater that falls in the area and keeps the soil moist. The vegetation is green almost round the year.

While visitors to the self-sustaining model village can see the water harvesting structures even without being taken on a conducted tour, they have to be told that the area once abounded with illicit liquor stills as well as bidi-cigarette kiosks. The 'vice' spots were banished long ago.

The miracle of lush green farms of vegetables, food crops and fruits was the result of participatory action led by Anna - and he is keeping it alive.

A dedicated team of volunteers and the villagers themselves who keep the environs green, clean and free from disputes and vices have enabled their motivator to travel across the length and breadth of the country to carry out other crusades - against corruption and for the right to information.

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