There have been different ways that individuals and groups have been following in order to protect or promulgate their wills and demands and on certain occasions even force others to follow what they want. These techniques have been both violent and non violent and they can be social, political and religious. When we talk of politics, such techniques are adopted by both ideological individuals and groups and numerous pressure groups.
Among the nonviolent techniques, in political scenario, hunger strike is one of the most dominant ones. It is a nonviolent resistance technique in which the participant(s) fast as a protest so as to pressurize the opposing party through gaining sympathy of the people and influencing their opinion or trying to provoke a sense of guilt in others, which may ultimately result in the achievement or at least propagation of the desired objectives.
In a hunger strike the striker keeps away from food but may take liquids unless the objective is met. At the same time, it is necessary for a hunger striker to make sure that his/her objective is properly propagated so that the people that have to be impressed should at least come to know about the demanded objectives; meanwhile, the same can help in influencing the public opinion.
The concept of hunger strike is not a new phenomenon. It has its roots in the ancient history.
According to the records, it was used as a method of protesting injustice in pre-Christian Ireland, where it was known as Troscadh or Cealachan. The fast was often carried out on the doorstep of the home of the offender.
Scholars speculate this was due to the high importance the culture placed on hospitality. Allowing a person to die at one's doorstep, for a wrong which one was accused of, was considered a great dishonor. The ancient history of India also shows the instances of fasting almost in the similar fashion. Apart from that, fasting as a religious practice has been a part of almost every religion, even the earliest religions of the world. There may be connection between both types of fasting but they differ in their objectives.
There are many examples of hunger strikes in the modern history of mankind. Among them the most notable one is the hunger strike of Baghat Singh and Jatin Das, which lasted for 115 days and broke the record of world's longest hunger strike. The strike was carried out by them in order to have their demands fulfilled in the prison.
They were successful on 116th day of their strike, when their demands were met and they had to give up their strike. Apart from that there have been instances when the strikers have not given up their strikes till death.
Among them the name of Swami Nigamanand is a dominant one. His strike started on February 19, 2011 and lasted till June 13 – the day when he died. His strike was to protest against illegal mining on the bank of the Ganga in Haridwar. Another example of such a strike is of Thileepan, who started his strike to bring awareness and action to a list of public demands made by him and the Tamil Tigers, which is considered a terrorist group.
Among the most recent of hunger strikes, the hunger strike of Anna Hazara, an Indian social activist is still in the minds of people. His strike, which lasted for almost two weeks, was launched to pass Jan Lokpal Bill. The bill contained strong anti-corruption measures. He was widely supported throughout India and there were protest throughout the country in the favor of his strike and ideas.
Another notable hunger strike is the ongoing hunger strike in our country Afghanistan and that is of Samin Barakzai. Samin Barakzai is one of the 9 MP's who were unseated after the decision of the Independent Election Commission regarding the issue of fraudulent win in the last elections.
Though the decision seemed to have calmed the controversy that had developed among different pillars of states and the situation was getting normal as the MP's had accepted in some way or the other the decision of Independent Election commission, the situation has turned out to be different from what was expected. Samin Barakzai decided to go for strike in a tent that was set in front of the lower house of the parliament.
She is in the 13th day of her strike, and she is of the opinion that her strike will continue until she is restored to her seat as she believes there has not been any fraud on her part in the elections. She has been able to influence public opinion and gather the sympathy of the sensitive stratum of society.
Though there has been confirmation on the part of the government regarding thorough consideration of her case, she still does not seem satisfied. Her condition seems to be deteriorating and the pressure is building continuously on the government. What will be the outcome of this strike is still uncertain.
One of the major questions about hunger strikes is, "Are they democratic?" Does democracy allow a person or group of persons to opt for starving himself/herself to death? Many countries have the legislation against suicide therefore they even go for feeding the striker(s) forcefully.
Another important question about hunger strike is, "Are the steps taken under the pressure from any hunger strike democratic?" For example, if the demands of Samin Barakzai are accepted and she is restored to her position, would that be democratic? What about the fate of other 8 MP's, would they also go for strike in order to be restored for to their positions. Democracy requires a particular procedure for every legislation or policy, which has to be carried on in accordance to the rules and regulations.
Isn't hunger strike an attempt to influence the democratic procedures through blackmailing the people emotionally? These questions are very serious in nature and need to be discussed circumstantially, but one thing is certain and that is 'a true hunger strike comes at a moment when all the democratic ways of solving an issue fail completely.'