An Appetite for Fasting

Appetite for fasting_CrappyPicturesNot long ago (in human terms) some one named Mohandas Gandhi sought to remain hungry for a cause.  It is considered to be a non-violent form of protest although it is so violent on the person who goes hungry.  One of the ways to obtain mOksha, according to some ancient (including some religious) beliefs is to relentlessly and slowly punish one’s own body.  I would like to add to that and say punish oneself in whichever way one is comfortable with.  Now, what could be a comfortable punishment? It is an oxymoron. When I say that the punishment should be comfortable, the punishment should be mild enough not to kill the person in an instant, it should be painful enough to qualify to become a punishment and it should, if desired, generate sympathy, (and/or) respect, (and/or) imitation, (and/or) provocation and may also generate an antagonistic response (repulsion) from the observers in the society.  Some of the self-inflicted wounds, E.g., failed attempts to commit suicide may generate sympathy, may provoke imitation from other weak minded people but rarely generate respect.  Some instant acts of brutality E.g., failed human bombs generate great anger and an antagonistic response.  Both these examples come under special categories.  A failed suicidal attempt is a selfish act of desperation (at one level) and rarely can the person give a worthy reason and/or a cause for his/her deed.   On the other hand, the seemingly selfless motive of a failed human bomb is a brutal and meaningless act and the act generates a huge sense of vengeance in the public at large.

Note that both are failed attempts.  If they are successful in what they intended to do, then these acts of self harm do not qualify to be a comfortable punishment rather they prove to be fatal.  In case of a depressed suicide, the person generates sympathy and achieves nothing (only ghosts can empathize with them, if they exist).  In case of a human bomb, the person needlessly kills innocent people, causes permanent disability in many people, damages public properties and in the end generates anger and hatred and achieves nothing.  The traditional and ancient methods of slow bodily punishments that were believed to give mOksha were so difficult and so selfless that they harmed no one other than the person who was undertaking the act and they were a sort of awareness campaigns where the person who underwent self imposed punishment advertised the meaninglessness of human greed and materialism (to put it in simple terms).  You might say in principle there is no difference between a slow suicide and these ancient methods.  I don’t like the idea of obtaining mOksha through slow and self inflicted bodily harm myself but, given their intention (not done out of desperation or depression or selfishness), I would say they had a place in their time.

Somewhere between these extremes, we invented the hunger strike. It causes slow bodily harm.  It does not harm others. It attracts attention from people who care.  Children do it at home for 15 minutes almost once in a week (to get their way) hence can identify with it (!).  An adult, who can remain hungry and not die for weeks, when takes up hunger strike highlighting a big public issue (as Gandhi did), then it attracts more attention and gathers (if has a noble cause) public support.  It fits well with human time references, since desirable decisions can be arrived at and action can be taken (if people are serious) in a couple of weeks.

Protesting through fasting may be an accepted form of hostility.  Like any antibiotic, hunger strikes work well when they are used sparingly.  If one over does it or many people (with no public standing) do it in parallel or sequentially then people who usually care to respond become resistant to it and may even become hostile.  The cause may be worthy of selfless (semi-altruistic) acts of protest through fasting.  We should not forget that people who we elected need some space to work with.  Unlike the case of independence to India, a piece of legislation against corruption cannot become non-negotiable.  The only similarity I see between the fasts that Gandhi undertook and the current series of fasts against corruption is the fact that Gandhi more often than not, needed to control his own people when they went on rioting (although the original idea was a symbolic act of disagreement with the British) and the ongoing series of protests are also against our own people, people we elected as our representatives.

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