November 7 2011
Anna Hazare in 4. 35 Minutes: Viral Video and the Reassessment of Revolution
“Anna, kya message dai na jahah ti hai?- “Big brother, what message would you like to give?” a voice from behind the screen asks. The 74-year-old man filled with ease in his white cotton tunic smiles at the camera, licks his lips and replies: “Meh Tihar jail me hoon- “I am in Tihar jail and all of you my countrymen, my brothers, my family, my children, my grandchildren, and the youth- who are the force of revolution upon whom I have a lot of hope, it is from all of you I derive strength and it appears to me that this jail is not going to affect me. Period” (Bedi).
Anti-corruption sentiments and movements are as old as the young history of India. Historically, anti-corruption activism has been limited to regions of India due to linguistic, ethnic and regional pride that prevented national anti-corruption advocacy to penetrate through the Indian public sphere. Since June, however, India has been engaged in one of its largest social movements since its Independence in 1947. Anti-corruption protests have been able to penetrate the public sphere regardless of language or region with the aid of a platform that caters to India’s large, thriving, and growing population: urban middle class youth. The use of interweb social media has been able to penetrate and diffuse information about the movement regardless of language, ethnic, and regional barriers. The following case study about the revolutionary use of viral video and YouTube suggests that interweb social media holds potential for future movements in the diffusion of knowledge coterminous of cultural, political, and societal boundaries.
On Tuesday August 16, 2011 at 7 am Kisan Baburao Anna (elder brother) Hazare, the leader of India’s Anti-Corruption Movement, was arrested on terms of ‘illegal’ protest. As the hot story got in the hands of news analysts, sensationalist headlines and news bulletins such as “Anna Hazare Escalates War with Government” (Times of India) and “Anna’s Arrest- Will the Government Pay Heavy?”(NDTV) streamed across television and computer screens around India. By 12 Noon, the streets of major cities from Delhi to Chennai were flooded with angry sympathizers. No anti-corruption rally in the history of India thus far has been able to grow coterminous of state borders and be predominantly youth-run. Political pundits were baffled by the millions of young people across India who had mobilized between August 16 to 19. The media’s manipulation of the facts of the Anna Hazare case heavily influenced the trajectory Hazare chose in his revolutionary mission, yet through alternative means of information diffusion, Anna was able to reconfigure his identity as a leader. Reflecting on both the lack of news from Hazare’s media advisory council and on the images of protests in different cities, Indian news sources such as NDTV and Times of India ascribed Hazare as the face of the Anti-Corruption movement. Anna Hazare’s infamous viral video from Tahir Prison was a direct response to the ascribed identity as the ‘anti-corruption messiah” and revealed his future position in the campaign by YouTube. In conclusion I will suggest as to how viral video could perhaps be a forum for transparency and diffusion of ideas and the future of social action rhetoric dissemination.
The arrest of Anna Hazare on August 16, 2011 caused fervor and riot by sun down not just in the capital city of Delhi, but across to southern states such as Hydrabad and Bangalore. At 7:30 am, the day of arrest, Times of India was the first to report the arrest of Anna Hazare. At his apartment No. 280, Supreme Apartments, East Delhi Hazare was arrested at 7:00 am before a public protest that was scheduled earlier that day. The protest “Fast Unto Death” was to be held at Jai Prakash Narayan Park. The fast was a movement to draw awareness to a possible piece of legislation called Lokpal Bill that would act as a grievance court for members of society, regardless of occupation, to sue over governmental and bureaucratic corruption schemes. Hazare made it clear through Twitter updates that there would in fact be a “Fast Unto Death”-regardless of government mandate Section 144- which granted the police authority to arrest anyone who was assembling for the fast (Times of India).
The first protests began at 8 am in Delhi. Supporters who heard news of Hazare’s arrest poured into the streets from Jai Prakash Narayan Park. The crowds grew rapidly to the point where Delhi police began arresting and detaining hundreds of protesters in Chhtrasal Stadium in North Delhi (CNN IBN). News of Hazare’s arrest brought crowds into the streets of southern cities such as Hyrabad, Bangalore, and Chennai. From school children to senior citizens, the chant “Anna Hazare, nay chalaegi nay chalaegi! It Won’t Go! It Won’t Go!” was chanted in unison. What was it that caused such fervor and anger in the streets?
As news channels compiled interviews as to why protesters were occupying streets, media analysis programs such as Barkha Datt’s Talk Show “The Buck Stops Here” attempted to explain as to why so many people regardless of regional area of India were able to rally with Hazare and protest the streets. On her show, Datt hosts Arun Jedi, a senior lawyer and politician interviewed about the arrest: “the government imposing such requests such as size and time control [Section 144], was scuttling the right of protest and declaring it redundant and odious. We cannot infringe on his [Anna’s] right to protest regardless of his message...there has never been a case like this, even in the British records, of an infringement on the fundamental right to protest. The government made a trap on their own. They sent him to jail when it was all not called for. This has been a peaceful movement! They look like- I do not want to use strong language- but cutting a sorry picture!” (NDTV). Jedi’s analysis of comparing the Indian government to the British, from a media analysis perspective, has many implications that insinuate a moral ultimatum between The Government of India and Anna Hazare. To do so, Jedi exclaims that the Government of India was more brutal and unjust in its actions towards Indian peaceful protest than the British were. This paints the Indian government in an ominous light as authoritarian and backward compared to the government during its national inception because of this administration’s inability to honor peaceful protest, the means of Indian Swaraj. The Indian government, as Jedi is suggesting, is infringing on Hazare’s very rights as a citizen. The ultimatum thus becomes: GOVERNMENT OF INDIA versus ANNA HAZARE and not THE GOVERNMENT OF INDIA and the ANTI CORRUPTION MOVEMENT.
Anna, on the other hand, is perceived as a martyr who was wrongfully in jail due to the evil doing of the Indian government. Under this vein of thought, Hazare is ascribed as the ‘victim’ who needs to gain back his rights. Through this, it can be inferred that the protesters are doing just that: winning back Anna Hazare’s right to protest. The analysis offered by Jedi sensationalized and even vicariously brought Anna Hazare as the ‘face’ of the Anti-Corruption movement to be pitted against the government.
By 8 pm more and more protesters took to the streets to hear more about Anna Hazare in Tihar Prison, the protesting, chants, and support for Hazare did not end at sun down. News was heard later that night. According to NDTV, a deal was reached earlier that night with Delhi Police that Hazare would be released on bail if he agreed to the terms of Sanction 144. Hazare and his advisors TEAM ANNA refused any agreement until he was able to hold his fast at JR Park unconditionally on his own terms (NDTV). After the bulletin described the situation of Hazare’s planned night in prison, News Titles as sensationalist as Jedi’s media analysis appeared online in minutes under major press pages: “ANNA HAZARE REFUSES TO COME OUT OF JAIL; DELHI POLICE BEEF UP SECURITY” (PTI), “Corrupt, Regressive, and Stupid” (The Hindu) and “Refuses to Leave Jail, Anna Holds Government Hostage” (Hindustan News). In all of these online newspaper headlines, Anna Hazare is either pitted against the government- as in the case of the Hindu, and the government is seen as ‘stupid’ while in other articles Hazare is ‘holding the government hostage’. Through all of the sensationalist media frenzy, it was difficult to parse out what exactly the Anti- Corruption movement was protesting for. Anna Hazare had become the face of the Anti-Corruption movement through the insinuations and suggestions of emotional headlines and commentary. Over the next three days, peaceful but cacophonous protests outside of Tihar Prison and even in southern cities such as Vizag and Mysore would exponentially grow. Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube would be updated constantly inquiring about Anna Hazare, stunning senior media analysts and politicians on the brevity and geographic diversity of the public’s outrage and pride. With no access to Tihar Prison, a comment from Anna Hazare himself was virtually impossible to disseminate. Virtually indeed. It was not until 72 hours of prison occupation did Anna Hazare, with the help of Kiran Bedi- his media assistant- did he address the very commentary about the arrest and occupation of Tihar Prison.
On August 18, 2011 After meeting in cell No. 4 with Anna Hazare, who was fasting in Tihar Prison for the third day in a row in hopes of “Lokpal and protest rights” Kiran Bedi, Anna Hazare’s media-specialist opened a YouTube account “thekiranbedi2011” and posted a video from her mobile phone titled: “Anna Hazare video from Tihar compound recorded by Dr. Kiran Bedi”. The video portrayed a cheerful, healthy Anna Hazare who two days earlier was arrested and not heard from for 72 hours in Tihar Prison. The uploading of this video was the first time a message was made in an Indian jail and went viral. Overnight, the 4 minute and 21 second video received 167,458 views and 2,183 likes. The video was posted on Facebook pages and was re-tweeted until by morning, every major Indian media network such as NDTV, Times of India, TV9, and CNN IBN was playing Hazare’s viral message. The very mode of dissemination was revolutionary. Never before in the history of India had a message been filmed in a jail. The choice of method bypasses the very mainstream media that sensationalized Hazare as the ‘second Gandhi’ or ‘Face of Anti-Corruption’. Instead, the footage though raw and grainy, is intimate. The very nature of the film resonates as ‘underground’ because of the danger of shooting a viral video in jail. The film’s mystique as an ‘illegal’ film sets up the perfect reason for the video to spread. Because this type of viral film is so novel and new to India, Hazare’s message was able to spread from Facebook user to Facebook user or tweet to tweet.
Anna Hazare, in his message, played with his media ascribed identity as cheerful, avuncular, and lovable, but his message described a fundamental shift in the movement that spoke of the anti-corrupt movement that was not limited to the recognizable happy face of Anna Hazare. Through viral video media analysis- semantics, choice of dress and gestures, message, and mode of dissemination, it is then inducible as to how Hazare had been able to address media sensationalism and reconfigure his own identity as a leader through an alternative media.
The video portrays Hazare seated on the floor of his cell with a few members of Team ANNA dressed in his simple uniform white cotton tunic. When asked the question what message he would like to give, Hazare smiles, licks his lips, and takes a few seconds as if humored. Hazare speaks only one language- Hindi. Although the national language of India, it is among many. Hindi is often taught in private and public schools, but it is a language that is most understood by those in Northern India or middle class Indian citizens outside of Hindi speaking territories, as it is a requirement of all schools to teach Hindi. Perhaps considered a possible hurdle for the dissemination of Hazare’s message, awareness that middle class urban youth understand Hindi allows for Anna’s message to be spread confidently throughout cities regardless of linguistically distinct regions of India. In fact the message becomes more personal as his message of Hazare’s words in his mater bhasha, his mother tongue.
I am in Tihar jail and all of you my countrymen, my brothers, my family, my children, my grandchildren, and the youth- who are the force of revolution upon whom I have a lot of hope, it is from all of you I derive strength and it appears to me that this jail is not going to affect me. Period.
Within the semantics of Anna’s speech, he speaks both casually and dotingly like a grandfather to those he is addressing. Especially when he speaks of the youth, he addresses them as bhache, his children. In fact, about three fourths of his message is a congratulatory speech as well as words of advice for the youth who had been supporting the cause.
I can even ask the government to tell the government to keep me in the jail for another week (Hazare chuckles). Until the Lokpal bill is passed I will be in jail without any problem. (Hazare points upwards). I have a lot of strength (Hazare outstreches his arms). Those who are in Delhi I can talk to you directly, for those at home across India, I will talk to you at your home. Whoever is involved in the revolution all over the country, I shall talk to you all. My health is good do not worry about me (Hazare shrugs his shoulders, touches his chest, and smiles). Having seen all of this young revolution in this life time, I have more hope and strength. I can even walk five kilometers! (Hazare rises his arms above his head). We will never stop until we achieve our goal. I feel that if more and more of our youth get woken up that the bright future of the country is near, not far. (Hazare leans closer and smiles) I feel as though my dream for a more honest India is going to be fulfilled (Hazare tilts his head to the side). There are so many young boys and girls and youth in the new revolution and they chant “bharat matha ki jai- [Hail Mother India!]”, “inqualab zindabad [long live revolution]”, “vande matharm [We are United!]” (Hazare raises his fists in the air and waves them above his head with each cheer), when i see such chanting by the youth with passion, I feel more energized and enthusiastic. (Hazare places his hands on his heart and shakes his heads from side to side while smiling a toothy smile).
In this section of his message, it is interesting how is body language and method of speaking establishes a pathos that he, like a proud father, is moved by the youth protesting and standing up for anti-corruption. As this video is intimate and raw, his body language is as communicative as his actualy message of delivery. Although he had been fasting with no water or food for three days, Hazare is still dynamic and charismatic. When he says that although he had been fasting, he is full of energy because of the protests outside the jail, Hazare’s facial expressions, smile, and hand gestures enhance and validate his sentiment. His tender tone in his voice and gestures establish a pathos for deep respect and affection. His speaking style is intimate with the viewer yet broad so the message is not limited to a certain geographic region, religion. He begins the video with an avoweled identity as a proud father who is well and happy regardless of physical conditions of fast and prison. But this sweet and docile nature of his speech changes when he is asked by Kiran Bedi behind the camera if there is anything he could wish from the government. In the last minute of the message, Hazare speaks firmly and not as tenderly suggests how the movement should head with inspiring but critical rhetoric. During the rest of his speech, Hazare’s body language changes. He does not move his arms as dynamically. His smile fades and his brow is knit. He stays fixated on the camera and speaks faster than before:
I would like to tell the government that they should not take so much time to solve the problems. It is not a question of Anna Hazare. Did the revolutionaries come with the question of Anna Hazare? No. The reason they are in the streets is because they want to address anti-corruption. For people, life is hard to live day to day with corruption. Because of corruption their life is getting miserable. For college youth, schools ask for money or they do are not granted a seat, they get no education. Every walk of life there is corruption. The people have lost the patience to tolerate corruption any more. When they have exhausted their patience then people will rebel and come to the road. It has come out of their hearts. They have lost their patience because it is affecting their lives. It is from the heart. If 90% of the corruption is controlled, people will lead a life without any difficulty. I have sacrificed my life for the poor and for this country all my life. If the Lokpall Bill is instituted then people will feel the taste of freedom.
Addressing as to why people are protesting is an important part of this message. This is because he as a leader, in order to have a successful Anti-Corruption Protest throughout India, must maintain a pathos that he is both relatable and his message intimate, but not so intimate that his message addresses only one region of India. He must establish a pathos that is of a firm, dynamic, and unmoving leader, without being misunderstood as harsh and stubborn. He must also establish a pathos in which he does not represent the entire Anti-Corruption movement that had spread itself over the diverse regions of India but to help guide and give the movement a direction with peaceful methods of protest as well as a solution to anti-corruption: Lokpal. Although the ascribed role of FACE OF ANTI- CORRUPTION helped rally so many citizens to protest for Hazare to be released, haning Hazare in this position for longer would eventually lead to the mitigation of the movement. In order to sustain the numbers of youth protesting, Hazare needs to motivate youth that too are leaders. In the section above, Hazare addresses the youth’s need to get involved and that corruption is beyond his life as Anna Hazare. Corruption, as he says, is an Indian problem and a problem of the common man. In the section above, Hazare is illustrating the the very act of corruption is the reason people are in the streets. This addresses the media’s fascination as to why millions of people poured into the streets after the arrest of Anna Hazare. The semantics of WE ARE ANNA must be re-evaluated. Although Hazare’s arrest rallied many to protest because of the sheer undemocratic nature of Sanction 144, many could have seen the movement as the ANNA HAZARE movement, not the ANTI CORRUPTION movement. The phrase WE ARE ANNA has the ability to transcend Anna Hazare. In this section, Hazare states that the movement is, above all, about anti-corruption.
By addressing corruption in college admissions, Hazare is then speaking to a certain group of people- middle class urban youth. By drawing attention to this specific occurrence, youth are able to feel a connection to this act of corruption because many of them have experienced it. He is specifically communicating to youth- especially those who are yet involved in the movement, that corruption influences their lives as well even though they are young. Hazare is addressing many people in this section of his message: the government, the youth, critics of the movement, bystanders, supporters, and the media. In this section of the message, he is introducing a new emotion of pathos. He is beginning to build a pathos of both a dynamic and hip yet lovable and avuncular GUIDE not FACE of the Anti-Corruption movement. Thus Anna Hazare transcends from being the ‘face’ of the movement to the ‘support’. This subtle shift or renunciation of power is the beginning of diverging road so that the Anti-Corruption movement can grow even more with youth leaders in different parts of the country:
Yes. I will meet with everybody and talk to all you leaders. I would like to guide the path for people. This is not the time to stop. The movement has to go on with you. But it should be peaceful and no damage to public property and national treasure. Do not give difficulty to other citizens. We have seen in the world many countries have protest by the youth. What we see is setting of fire and immense violence. In our country whatever the youth are doing is absolutely peaceful. There is not damage to public property. This message will go to many countries that we can protest with no violence or damage to property. The whole world is watching. More than 100, 000 people protested in India Gate. I am told that yesterday there was not violence or authoritarian control. No movement this big has been so peaceful. We are one of a kind. I will talk to you and see you on the other side tomorrow.
The last section of Hazare’s message is an extended invitation to youth organizers and leaders. He even lauds and draws attention to the India Gate peaceful protest. When he says that the movement continues with ‘you’- the viewer- Hazare is virtually transferring his leadership to the viewer of the viral video. This section is the most important of his video because he is directly transferring his power as the leader against anti-corruption to the viewer. The mention of India’s legacy as a peaceful yet vocal country also gives heavy responsibility to whom ever he is communicating with. A message like this speaks beyond the confines of a microphone or interview at a station. This video, although shot in an unorthodox style, was a powerful tool of media manipulation to disseminate ideas. Due to the sensationalist quality of Indian news networks that played on emotion rather than fact in the 72 hours that little information about Hazare was available, Anna was able to A. reconfigure his an ascribed identity so that the movement would attract members of different backgrounds- especially the middle class urban youth of India. The utilization of social and viral media adheres to a whole new generation who too realize the inescapable coverage of the Anti-Corruption movement, but this time they have a personal connection through a technology that is the most intimate with their generation.
In conclusion, the utilization of viral video as a mode of disseminating ideas creates a pathos that is the perfect balance between intimacy and mass-communication. The intimacy derives from the virtually infinite creative methods of video production as well as the fact that anyone can post a video with basic understanding of a video upload. Hazare’s message from Tihar Prison was shot on a standard flip phone. This uncensored, creative, and alternative method of communication revolutionizes the very notion of who can be behind and in front of the camera. Bedi’s phone was Hazare’s connection to the world. He was able to address the media frenzy who had pinned him as a figure head but to communicate to so many other individuals- both within India but also globally as well. As more and more of our personal lives shift to the internet, social causes will certainly be a pivotal role in it all.
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