Starving for Attention on Hunger Strike

Gandhi used the peaceful protest of hunger strike.

Anna Hazare has revived an old custom and a flood of memories. The peaceful protest of hunger strike is under protest in India.

The non-violent peaceful protest of hunger strike is and always has been seen as an extreme form of protest. When someone dies while on hunger strike I think of the pain family members endure as they witness their loved one commit what I would call a  “slow suicide”

Just as you remember where you were for the assassination of John F. Kennedy and 9/11;  I remember where I was for the death of Bobby Sands, the hunger striker in the Maze, a prison in the north of Ireland.

It was the fifth day of May,1981. The door of the classroom creaked open and our music teacher Miss Gilligan peeked in. A small tilt of the head and our regular teacher Miss Hanley knew she was being motioned to step outside. When she returned we stood and blessed ourselves and began saying a prayer for the soul of Bobby Sands. After 66 days without food in protest for the removal of the Special Category Status of prisoners convicted of involvement with the Northern Ireland political conflicts; the Troubles, Bobby Sands was dead at 27 years of age.

I was 12 years old then, and I could not comprehend that anything was worth starving for.

This is my earliest memory of hunger strikers. Later I would learn of the “peaceful protests” of ” the soldier of truth,” Mohandas Gandhi of India.

The practice of hunger striking has been traced back to pre-Christian Ireland and dates back as ancient as 400 to 750 BC in India.

In Ireland, according to David Beresford, author of Ten Men Dead, “Troscadh” or “Cealachan” was a hunger strike on the door step of an offender. Allowing a person to die on your door step was considered to be shameful for the offender. Hunger strikers fasted in an attempt to receive payment for a debt or in protest for a perceived wrong.

In India the practice of hunger striking was abolished by the government in 1861, an indication that the practice was publicly widespread.A hunger striker or protester would fast at the door of the offending party in a public call for justice to be done.

Mohandas Gandhi engaged in several famous hunger strikes to protest England’s rule of India. Other hunger strikers in India were  Jatin Das and Bhagat Singh.

From Turkey to India to Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp and the suffragette movements in England and America, the use of hunger strikes to demand attention for issues, either political or personal, has been looked on with dismay.

Why would someone risk starvation? Other parts of the world, Somalia and Ethiopia for instance, unwillingly endure death by starvation due to famines. In this day and age to protest by hunger strike is seen as archaic and according to the authorities in India, unlawful.

Anna Hazare, 74, Indian social activist is released from Jail on Friday August 19th and commences a hunger strike in New Delhi.

On Tuesday, Anna Hazare, 74, was arrested as he made his way to lead an anti corruption hunger strike at a park in New Delhi in India.

According to the New York Times;

Bobby Sands aged 27, died on May 5 1981 at Longkesh prison in the North of Ireland, on day 66 of his hunger strike.

Hazare’s arrest, “ made while he was en route to a park in New Delhi where he intended to commence a hunger strike as part of his anti-corruption campaign, drove thousands of people onto city streets across India. Under public pressure, government officials tried to release him within hours, but Mr. Hazare refused to leave jail unless the government released him unconditionally. On Thursday, the two sides reached a compromise, and Mr. Hazare is expected to leave jail on Friday to lead a hunger strike and mass protest in central New Delhi to push his demand that the government create a powerful, independent anti-corruption agency.”

I consider Mahatma Gandhi and Bobby Sands heroes of a by-gone time, but still I struggle to understand how someone could risk a very slow and painful form of suicide. I feel sorry that their loved ones have to witness this. Is this the ultimate act of putting country before self?

Hunger strike is a serious act of political protest and deserves serious attention.

I hope Hazare and his fellow hunger strikers achieve their goals.

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5 thoughts on “Starving for Attention on Hunger Strike

  1. This is an excellent article, Loretto. When my mom hung the flag for Bobby Sands, it started me thinking about what it really meant to claim Irish heritage, beyond the shamrocks and poetry. I too couldn’t imagine what the families of Sands (and the other strikers) must have gone through. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Pingback: Celebrating Margaret Thatcher’s Death: Is it right or wrong? | Breise! Breise! Extra! Extra!

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