By Greg Donaldson
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia
NEW DELHI, India – Indian police halted a hunger strike late Saturday evening in the capital city. The protest, led by yoga guru Swami Ramdev, only lasted fourteen hours as police moved in to break up the protest just after midnight. Police officers forcibly removed Ramdev and thousands of his supporters by firing tear gas shells. It is estimated that anywhere between thirty and seventy people were injured during the raid.
The following day Ramdev appeared on national television stating that “the government wants to kill me.” Ramdev pledged to continue his hunger strikes elsewhere and to not be intimidated by the government. Ramdev has been classified as the “rock star of yoga.” Ramdev’s daily two-hour television show has been the most watched show in India since 2003 reports the Washington Post.
Responding to critics of the government crackdown, Prime Minister Manmohan Signh addressed the issue Monday explaining that the crackdown was “unfortunate but unavoidable.” The Delhi police said they decided to end the event since Ramdev only had a permit to conduct a yoga meditation session with 5,000 people, the crowd had risen to 50,000, and Ramdev was encouraging more people to come.
Sunday evening the Prime Minister continued his defense of the crackdown citing past “non-violent” protests that had later turned violent. Rajan Bhagat, a police spokesman, explained that the confrontation did not begin until after the police ordered the protestors to go home, and then some protestors begin throwing bricks at officers which in turn led to the release of tear gas.
Kapil Sibal, a senior government official, released a letter that he said was written by Ramdev’s aide which promised to end the fast within twenty-four hours. Ramdev said he was forced to write the letter. Surendra Pai, a chemistry professor participating in the strike, said the government “is full of corrupt liars and they are trying to make Ramdev look bad.”The Supreme Court has asked the government for an explanation about their use of “brutal force” to disperse the Ramdev protest.
Ramdev and his supporters are calling for the Indian government to crackdown on those obtaining money illegally and then depositing it into secret back accounts outside of the country. This issue has haunted the government for the past year as several Indian citizens and government officials have been discovered as holding illegal earnings in foreign bank accounts.
Ramdev continues his protest two-hundred kilometers from the capital city in Haridwar.
For more information, please see:
The Hindu — After midnight swoop, battle line hardens — 6 June, 2011
The Times of India — PM defends crackdown on Ramdev, says there was no alternative — 6 June, 2011
New York Times — After Raid, Indian Guru’s Protest Stirs a Firestorm — 5 June, 2011
Washington Post — Fast led by yoga guru prompts India to weigh move against corruption — 4 June, 2011