Jan Lokpal crusaders you haven't heard of

People from varied backgrounds joined the referendum on Jan Lokpal as volunteers


Danish Raza | July 29, 2011

Volunteers giving forms at a house in Chandni Chowk constituency
Volunteers giving forms at a house in Chandni Chowk constituency

Vandana Sahu, a housewife, is on a break. She is living her dream. Her long-cherished desire of serving the society has brought her to a narrow lane in the walled city’s Ballimaran area. This is the first time that the mother of two is in this part of the city- around 35 km from her Rohini residence.

She has a bundle of OMR forms with her and a file containing the list of addresses in this lane. She makes her way amidst traffic, cycle rickshaws and goats. Dangling above her head is a mess of electric wires, of all colours and thickness. Vandana knocks at a wooden door, sky blue in colour the lower half which has been eaten away by termites. After a few knocks, a female voice from the other side enquires who it is.

“I am from Anna Hazare’s team,” answers Vandana.

A lady in her 50s comes at the door and greets her. Vandana tells her that Team Anna is doing a referendum to know public opinion about the Lokpal bill. “This form has eight questions in it. Please read it carefully before filling. I will come back tomorrow to collect the form,” says Vandana, while handing over a form to the lady, Sayeda Begum, who kept a straight face while listening to Vandana.

Sayeda offers Vandana a glass of water. Vandana does not have time as she has to cover 70 more houses in this lane before she calls it a day.

The 46-year-old always wanted to do her bit for the society. When Team Hazare sent her SMS asking if she could participate in the survey for four days as a volunteer, she could not say no. “School, college, marriage and then kids... you can say that I just did not get the time,” says Vandana upon being asked why she had not followed her dream of  social service earlier.  In three days, she has distributed over 500 forms.

This is the first time since her marriage that she has been out of her house for 12 hours a day. It has been such for nearly six days now. “I have the support of my husband who is a civil engineer with a private construction company and children who are studying in classes 10 and 12. In fact, my husband drops me at the metro station in the morning and is there to receive me when I am back at around 9 pm,” she says, adding that she cooks before starting from her home at 9 in the morning so that her children do not have to order food from outside.

As a volunteer, she has received a mixed response from the residents. “The good thing is that we do not have to tell them that who is Anna Hazare. They have read about his movement in newspaper or have watched TV coverage of the same.”

What if the government does not accept the findings of the survey?

“If we start thinking on these lines, then none of the citizens would join this movement,” Sahu says.

It is the faith and conviction of Vandana and 500 volunteers like her which is providing fuel to the referendum on the Lokpal issue, which started in the capital on July 21.

The government and the civil society representatives have differences on contentious issues regarding the functioning and the powers of the proposed anti-graft body. The government has rejected the civil society’s demand of keeping the prime minister and the judiciary within the purview of the Lokpal.

To know the public opinion on these points, Team Hazare launched a referendum on in Chandni Chowk- the constituency of Kapil Sibal, a union minister and government representative on the joint drafting committee for the Lokpal bill.

Ever since, people from varied backgrounds with red forms in their hands are visible in the entire constituency. The fact that they have to go door to door in areas totally unknown to them, is not dithering the efforts of the volunteers who were invited through SMS.

For some, it is fulfilling a long cherished desire, for others it is about meeting new people and getting exposed to varied opinions. And there are those who want to make a point.

Take Kanika Sharma, for example. The post-graduate student in Delhi University’s St Stephen’s college went against the wishes of her parents and elder brother and joined the movement as a volunteer. They told her that just one survey or one institution would not eradicate corruption. She is out to prove them wrong.

“I politely told them that if you don’t want me to go, I will not go, but I will not feel good about it,” says Kanika, who has distributed more than 1,000 forms in five days. “It is strange. Convincing strangers about the entire movement and the body called Lokpal is easier than convincing my family.”

She asked her college mates to join her in this cause, but in vain. “All of them support the cause, but are not willing to be volunteers even for one day.”

Like Vandana Sahu, this is her first tryst with the Chandni Chowk area. Initially, she was a supervisor at one of the monitoring points. Her work involved assigning responsibilities to various field volunteers and coordinating with them. But when she was asked to visit to assist the field volunteers in form distribution, she did not hesitate.

“It was a task to locate addresses in these areas,” says Kanika who discovered that while many people knew about Anna Hazare, they were not aware about the details of the Lokpal bill. “Facts such as the existence of two drafts of the bill, the functioning of Lokpal and how it would reduce corruption, were new to the people here.”

This and other ground realities greeted Team Hazare and the battery of volunteers participating in the referendum.

While majority of people know Hazare as a public figure who is working to tackle corruption, they are not aware of facts such as what effect bringing the prime minister and judiciary under the Lokpal's purview would on the fight against corruption; what is the importance of not having politicians on the selection committee of Lokpal and how exactly the anti-graft body would work. In such cases, volunteers brief them about the entire anti-corruption drive.

Many volunteers found that people had not filled the forms given to them. Some respondents wanted the volunteers to explain each question to them.

The result is that in six days only 1.5 lakh forms could be distributed as against the target of seven lakh forms in four days. 

Rajeev Kasewa, 60, does not think these factors are reasons for concern. The retired chartered accountant is volunteering as a supervisor. He keeps a tab on all the field volunteers. “Show me one independent survey in the country which has covered 1.5 lakh voters. This is no mean achievement,” says he. 

Kasewa spent 30 years of his career in Africa and the Middle East before coming back in India to live a retired life. He witnessed nepotism and corruption abroad and always thought that the situation would be better in India. The myth shattered as he encountered the worst here. “For each and everything, you have to pay bribe. It is horrendous,” says he.

The Indian in him felt helpless. When the news of Anna Hazare sitting on fast at Jantar Mantar reached him, he saw in it an opportunity to clean the filth called corruption. Since March, he has been associated with the Lokpal movement as a volunteer. “Nation building is the best cause one can work for,” says Kasewa who lives with his wife and two sons in South Delhi’s Vasant Kunj.

That the people spearheading this movement are educated, decent and with clean image, drove Kasewa to this cause. “There is no personal gain for anyone. They are working to tackle corruption, something which effects all of us collectively and individually,” says he.  



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