Anna Hazare. The name sounds like an exotic woman; maybe the name of some foreign thriller in the movie house. But it is actually a man, who may be at the center of one of the largest citizen movements in recorded history. India is awash with civil dissent right now, due to “Team Anna” and his (their) remarkable use of lessons learned from Mahatma Gandhi’s non violent demonstrations from several decades ago. The world has been witnessing country after country fall to civil war, rebellion and social media driven citizen action. Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, soon Syria. Is India next?
But actually the idea of this maybe being the name of some foreign thriller is not too far from the truth. Not only is the non violent actions of one man and the people who are following him causing millions of people to convulse with political and civic activism; but agents of the state are involved in speech suppression using modern technology, while it is age old social media that seems to be the primary driver. At the same time modern media like twitter is flush with dialog, support, anger. Just search for “#Janlokpal” and the tweets are flying by. His supporters are actively using Youtube, and of course; Facebook, as well as local social media and sms based platforms.
However due to a combination of demographics, technology and tradition, the biggest social media in India is not one of those we think of usually. But rather beyond the sms social networks, the internet, the telephone, is the age old voice on the street. Some people just call it word of mouth. But it is indeed word of mouth that is actually driving lots of this current strife.
Millions of people are supporting the hunger strike of Anna through citizen action in the streets, on the internet, and using sms based social networks. He started a campaign about the debate in India around the anti-corruption laws. He has been jailed, released, fought many battles. His story is interestingly picking up support in next door Pakistan, not a country usually known for supporting anything Indian.
The SMS based social network GoI had blocked all bulk sms of the Anna team as of August 22, 2011. Behind the scenes reports are coming in from reporters, bloggers and others close to the government in India about various agencies of the Indian government trying to use other electronic methods to suppress the free speech of “Team Anna.” At the same time as the spy agencies are being used, the Indian Government is both on vacation, and initiating talks with “Team Anna” simultaneously.
Like one of those relationship posts on Facebook, “it’s complicated.”
In a case of the newest social media combining with the oldest social media – we are witnessing civil disturbances of the largest recorded size in decades, yet not only is the western media largely bypassing the story, but bucking the global trend, it is not high technology platforms driving this particular series of citizen actions, but age old word of mouth.