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'Anna is fighting for people like me'

Last updated on: August 19, 2011 01:12 IST

'Anna is fighting for people like me'

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Prasanna D Zore in New Delhi

Here's how four dots -- a migrant seller of papads from Uttar Pradesh's Pratapgarh, an first year BCom student from Punjab's Jalandhar, an BSc Honours student from Delhi's Hauz Khas and a student of commerce from Haryana's Gurgaon -- connect with each other in a neat circle outside the footpath that abuts Delhi's Ramlila Maidan.

 

They are all less than 25 years of age and their careers and futures are at crossroads. Each one of these four have at crucial points in their careers had to face unreasonable demands for bribes.

 

Most importantly, they strongly believe that Hazare's version of the Jan Lokpal bill, if the parliament enacts it into a law, would weed out corruption substantially and help them improve their lives.

 

It is these circumstances that made these four, young men and women, cross each other's paths outside Ramlila maidan on August 18. While they are all victims of corruption they crisscrossed each other oblivious of each other's stories. Prasanna Zore reports.

 

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Image: Hazare supporters from Chandigarh
Photographs: Ajay Verma/Reuters
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'Till Annji succeeds, I have no choice'

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Central Reserve Police Force officials rejected Deepak Thakur of Jalandhar, who migrated to Delhi's outskirts near Noida when he was 10 with his parents, because his height did not match their requirements.

Strangely, he says, his height was checked when he had cleared the first four rounds.

"They could have screened me out during the very first round by checking my height. But they didn't," he says sardonically.

"First they checked my chest size and found it okay. Then they checked me for physical deformities and medical ailments but I cleared that stage too. Then they made me trot a distance of 5.4 kilometres in six minutes and I cleared that too. Then they realised that my height was just 166 cm," Deepak continues.

Deepak missed CRPF's height criteria by just two centimetres. And then reality struck.

"The CRPF instructor who rejected me citing my height asked me if I could make provisions for Rs 40,000 to clear my application for further rounds," Deepak says. The proposal was a no-brainer for Deepak whose father earns just Rs 2,000 every month working at a brick kiln.

Dejected, Deepak enrolled for a distance learning course at Delhi University to study commerce. "Now, I am going to apply for a job with the Uttar Pradesh police," he says opening his bag and shows a competitive exam textbook to stress home his sincerity.

But to fit the bill, he says, he will have to produce a certificate to prove he is a domicile of Uttar Pradesh. "I have made arrangements to get a UP domicile certificate. A local court official in Meerut has promised me to get my job done for Rs 2,000," he adds remorsefully.

Interestingly, Deepak had come to Ramlila Maidan to add his might to Hazare's fight against corruption. "He is fighting for people like me. I have decided to pay bribe for my domicile certificate. But till Annaji succeeds I have no choice," he adds for good measure.

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Image: Deepak Thakur
Photographs: Sanjay Sawant
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'My father refused to pay a bribe of Rs 20 lakh'

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Unlike Deepak, Jyoti Pathak of Delhi's Hauz Khas and her father refused to pay a bribe of Rs 20 lakh (two million rupees) to a trustee of SGT Medical college. While she cleared the college's entrance test with flying colours she could not secure the admission which meant so much to this 18-year-old girl.

"We were shocked when this gentleman demanded Rs 20 lakh from my father," says Jyoti who had come to Ramlila Maidan to lend her support to an issue that wrecked her career. 

"Many of my friends paid the money but we didn't. Of course it was impossible for people like us to even think of such a big amount. But even if we could afford such an amount, we wouldn't have given to this gentleman's demands," she says angrily.

"It was extremely painful and it still hurts," says Jyoti who is now pursuing BSc Honours in home science from Delhi university.

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Image: Jyoti Pathak (in a red top)
Photographs: Sanjay Sawant
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'My dreams came crashing down on me'

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As the muezzin at Delhi's famous Jama Masjid gives azan (a call to end the fast), all the faithful, more than 3,500 inside the historic mosque, break bread for iftari (The food Muslims eat when they break their fast at 7 in the evening during the holy month of Ramadan).

Mohd Sahil from Gurgaon had come to "see Delhi" with his three friends and as the sun set beyond the horizon the four friends waited eagerly to break their daily fast. Once he eats a few dates he begins to talk about his tryst with corruption.

"My uncle had promised me a job in Dubai as a salesperson after I passed my Class XII exams. Once through, I applied for a passport at the local office," Sahil says cheerfully as he gulps down a few bananas the friends had brought along with them.

Unfortunately, the passport official whom Sahil approached had different designs. For two months he made the 19-year-old boy run from pillar to post in search of various documents needed to make a passport. 

Once everything was in place this government official told him his passport could not be made because the spelling of his name on his school leaving certificate was different from the one written on his birth certificate.

"My dreams came crashing down on me," says Sahil. The passport official came with a solution: he asked Sahil for "Rs 20,000 to make the necessary adjustments."

It is more than six months now and Sahil's passport is nowhere close to a reality.

Like Deepak, Sahil too had succumbed to corrupt practices to get his way sorted out. Like, Deepak, Sahil too will be shouting slogans on August 19 when anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare stages his indefinite fast at Delhi's Ramlila Maidan.

"I had been to Ramlila even when Baba Ramdev staged a fast," Sahil adds.

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Image: Mohd Sahil
Photographs: Sanjay Sawant
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'Do you want to ruin my business?'

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Manish Sahu, a migrant from UP, perhaps is the most interesting of all the corruption victims who these correspondents met outside the Ramlila Maidan on the morning of August 18.

Manish manages to earn Rs 4,000 every month by selling papads at Rs 3 a piece for a family that comprises his wife and three-year old daughter. This despite the fact that he pays Rs 2,000 in bribes to constables of Delhi police and health and cleanliness officials of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi.

"I can't tell you more than this," says a scared Manish when asked if it is always the same cops and officials who come to him at the end of every month to collect their share of Manish's profits.

"Do you want to ruin my business?" he asks refusing to part with further details on how he manages to earn a livelihood despite the challenges he faces everyday while selling his wares on Delhi's streets.

Interestingly, he says, he made good profits when Ramdev staged his two-day fast at the same venue before the Delhi police bundled him and his supporters out of the Ramlila Maidan.

Doesn't he rue the fact that he has to part with almost 40 per cent of his monthly earnings as bribes to various government officials? "Yes those extra Rs 2,000 would surely help me make ends meet but then I am happy that I earn Rs 4,000 per month at least," he says.

Manish believes that Ramdev will be continuing his broken fast on August 19. He doesn't know who Hazare is. He assures that business will be very good when told that Hazare will begin his fast for about two weeks beginning August 19.

"I will be here on Friday morning," he says. "You will find me here at the same place".


Image: Manish Sahu
Photographs: Sanjay Sawant
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