We Indians have many reasons to fast
A fast, or a hunger strike, is often used as a method of making a political statement, to protest, or to bring awareness to a cause.
A fast, or a hunger strike, is often used as a method of making a political statement, to protest, or to bring awareness to a cause. There is reference to fasting as a means of persuasion in the Ramayana. As Lord Ram leaves for his 14 years of exile, Bharata tries to stop him saying that he will go on a fast unto death unless Ram changes his mind. Ram has to dissuade Bharata and strike a bargain with him, by offering him (Bharata) his sandals as his symbol, on whose behalf Bharata would rule the kingdom in Rama's absence.
In the 12th century CE in Kalhan's Rajtarangini which records events from the rule of the kings of Kashmir in the 12th century, there are many allusions to hunger strikes against King Jayasimha, following the feeling that he (the King) had allowed the kingdom to fall into ruin on account of his inaction against corruption.
Many centuries afterwards, Anna Hazare's hunger strike to highlight corruption stirred the nation's imagination and millions of Indians rose in support. The government of India had to ultimately succumb to public pressure and the Lokpal Bill was enacted as law by Parliament.
On April 20 2018 on his birthday, N Chandrababu Naidu, the then Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister, observed a day-long fast to protest against the Centre's non-cooperation in various matters.
In November 2009, the then TRS President K Chandrashekar Rao started a fast unto death, demanding that the central government must introduce a bill in Parliament for granting separate statehood to the Telangana region of Andhra Pradesh state. As is known, he succeeded in his mission, and is now the Chief Minister of the newly formed Telangana state for the second term.
A fast can also be an act of non-violent resistance, in which participant fasts as an act of political protest, to draw public attention to a cause, or to persuade the government to bring in a policy change. A relay hunger strike is a form of protest in which a number of persons go without food by turns.
In cases where an entity (usually the state) has, or is able to obtain, custody of the hunger striker (such as a prisoner), the hunger strike is often terminated by the custodial entity through the use of force-feeding. A spiritual fast, on the other hand, incorporates personal spiritual beliefs with the desire to express personal principles, sometimes in the context of a social injustice. It is essential on the spiritual fasting day not only to abstain from any food and sometimes even drinking water but also to spend the whole day with a positive, spiritual attitude. Mahatma Gandhi undertook several fasts as political and social protests.
In addition to Gandhi, various others used the hunger strike option during the Indian independence movement, including Bhagat Singh and Jatin Das who fasted to death.
Potti Sriramulu was an Indian revolutionary who died after undertaking a hunger strike to achieve the formation of a separate state, to be known as Andhra State.
Fasting is practiced in various religions. Examples include Lent in Christianity; Yom Kippur, in Judaism, and Muslims refraining from eating, drinking and sex during the entire daytime for one month, the Ramadan, every year.
In the Baháí Faith, fasting is observed from sunrise to sunset during the Baháí month of Ala (1 or 2 March – 19 or 20 March). Buddhist monks and nuns, following the Vinaya rules do not eat after the noon meal. This is considered a disciplined regimen aiding in meditation and good health.
Fasting is an optional practice in Hinduism. Individuals observe different kinds of fasts, based on personal beliefs and local customs. Some Hindus fast on certain days of the month such as Ekadasi. Certain days of the week are also set aside for fasting, depending on one's personal belief and the favorite deity. For example, devotees of Shiva fast on Mondays, while devotees of Vishnu do it on Thursdays. Saturday is the fasting day for devotees of Lord Venkateshwara (Balaji) and Ayyappa Swami. Fasting on Tuesdays, as a measure of devotion to Lord Hanuman, is a practice observed all over south India and north-western India. Some people fast on Saturdays for Lord Hanuman. People also undertake a fast on Thursdays which, in some regions is for Lord Vishnu and, in others, for Shirdi Saibaba. Similarly, during the solar and lunar eclipse, some people from Hindu faith refrain from any food intake till the eclipse ends.
Fasting is also very common on religious festivals such as Maha Sivaratri, or the nine days of Navaratri. Karwa Chauth is a form of fasting practiced in some parts of India where married women undertake a fast for the well-being, prosperity, and longevity of their husbands.
In the state of Andhra Pradesh, the month of Kartika (month), which begins with the day after Deepavali is often a period of frequent (though not necessarily continuous) fasting for some people, especially women.
The British, as well as, American suffragettes also used fasting as a method of political protest. In earlier days the maxim "feed a cold and starve a fever", was strictly observed. Recent medical research has, however, proved it wrong. No fasting is recommended, no matter what the complaint is.
The first meal of a day is called 'breakfast' for the reason that it follows a night's sleep.
Irom Chanu Sharmila the "Iron Lady of Manipur" is an Indian civil rights activist and poet from Manipur. On 5 November 2000, she began a hunger strike demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act that gives the Indian armed extraordinary powers. She ended the fast on 9 August 2016, after 16 long years of fasting, having refused food and water for more than 500 weeks.
Just as we observed, in the case of exercise, in a piece in this column earlier, what some do out of choice, clearly, is endured by others on account of the force of circumstances. Makes one think, does it not?
(The writer is former Chief Secretary, Government of Andhra Pradesh)
(The opinions expressed in this column are that of the writer. The facts and opinions expressed here do not reflect the views of The Hans India)