Anna Hazare was born on 15th January 1940 in a small village, Bhingar, near Ahmednagar. Anna's father Shri Baburao Hazare worked as an unskilled labourer in Ayurveda Ashram Pharmacy. Anna's grandfather was in the army and was posted at Bhingar when Anna was born. He died in 1945 but Anna's father continued to stay at Bhingar. In 1952 Anna's father resigned from his job and returned to his own village i.e. Ralegan Siddhi. At that time Anna had completed his education upto 4th standard and had six younger siblings. It was with great difficulty that Anna's father could make two ends meet. Anna's aunt (father's sister) took Anna to Bombay. She was childless and she offered to look after him and his education.

Anna studied upto the 7th standard in Bombay. He took up a job after the 7th standard in consideration of the economic situation back home. Anna's father at Ralegan had to work as a daily wage labourer and found it difficult to sustain his family. He was slipping deeper and deeper into debt. He had to sell off one part of his land and mortgage the other. Anna started selling flowers at Dadar (Bombay) in order to make his living. But Anna's working at somebody's shop for Rs. 40 a month was not enough. After gaining some experience, he started his own shop and even brought two of his brothers to Bombay. Gradually Anna's income went up to Rs. 700 to Rs. 800 per month.

In a couple of years Anna fell into bad company and started wasting his time and money on vices. He also started getting involved in brawls and fights, especially when he found some simple person being harassed by goondas. He became irregular in sending money to his family. The word went around in Ralegan that he had become a bad character himself. In one such fight, Anna bashed up a person rather badly. Fearing arrest, he avoided coming to his regular work and residence for some time. During this period (in April 1960) he appeared in Army recruitment interviews and was selected to join the Indian Army.

For his initial training he was sent to Aurangabad. After training he was posted in Punjab as a truck driver. Being far away from home and separated from all his friends, Anna felt lonely. He also had bouts of depression and the feeling of aimlessness in life. He had once resolved to end his life and even wrote a suicide note. On second thought, he however realised that his suicide may affect the marriage prospects of his younger sister. Therefore, he decided to postpone implementation of his resolution till his sister got married.

In the meantime, some events gave a new direction to his life. During the Indo-Pak war of 1965, he was driving a military vehicle somewhere on the western front when he saw a Pakistani plane flying low overhead. He and his colleagues jumped out and took shelter in the nearby bushes, Iying flat on the ground. The truck was blown off, all his colleagues were killed but Anna miraculously escaped unhurt.

Once again he had a miraculous escape when he was posted in Nagaland. One night, underground Nagas attacked the military post and killed all the inmates. By providence Anna had gone out to answer nature's call at that time and hence he was the lone survivor. These two events had a deep impact on Anna's mind. He realised that his life was not to be wasted. God had considered his life to be precious, otherwise he could have been killed along with his colleagues.

When these thoughts were churning in his mind, he came across a small booklet titled "Call to the youth for nation building" by Swami Vivekananda in a book-stall at the New Delhi station.

Vivekananda's thoughts gave meaning to his life and he decided to devote the rest of his life working for the society. He read many more books by Vivekananda, Mahatma Gandhi and Acharya Vinoba Bhave. His thoughts started developing and in 1970 he firmly told his parents about his decision not to get married. He urged his parents to go ahead and arrange the marriage of his younger brothers. The new found desire to live beyond his narrow self interest later drove him to seek voluntary retirement from the Army and come back to serve his own village.

He wanted his native village Ralegan Siddhi to improve, but did not know how and where to start. He used to come to his village on vacation and spend endless days sitting on the rocks at the outskirts of the village. Having spent most of his life in Bombay and in the Army, he did not have many friends in the village. Moreover the people of Ralegan who had known him as an angry young man from the days when he used to sell flowers outside Dadar station, were unaware of the transformation that had taken place in the personality of Anna Hazare.

In 1971 Anna was transferred to Bombay. From Bombay he started visiting the village regularly. From 1971 to 1974 his interaction with the village people increased. He also spent about Rs. 3000 for giving a face-lift to the Padmavati temple with a coat of oil paint. He also developed good relations with the village youth.

In 1974 he was transferred to Jammu. In 1975 he completed 15 years of service in Army, a statutory requirement for being entitled to a pension. He sought retirement and finally in August 1975, he got relieved from the Army and came back to Ralegan Siddhi for good.

From then on Anna began living a life of a sort of renunciate, devoting himself to working in his own village. His work in Ralegan Siddhi has been described in other chapters of this book. He started staying in the Yadav Baba temple and eating with the hostel boys. On 19th November 1986 he received Indira Priyadarshini Vrikshamitra award from the hands of Prime Minister Mr. Rajiv Gandhi. On 15th January 1987, he was felicitated by Ahmednagar Municipal Corporation and later on, also by the Pune Municipal Corporation. In 1989 the Maharashtra Government honoured him with Krishi Bhushana award and in 1990 he was honoured by the nation with the award of Padmashree.

Anna has been a deeply religious person. His philosophy is a mix of Hindu spiritualism and thoughts of modern Hindu thinkers like Vivekananda, Gandhi and Vinoba. Some sayings which he often quotes in his lectures are listed below. These quotations give an idea of Anna's mode of thought, which has made a direct impact on the development in Ralegan Siddhi.

Anna utilised individual centred Gandhian methods for bringing about moral pressure on the people. When the high school was started in Ralegan Siddhi, and the state government was not ready to sanction grant to the school, Anna quietly started his fast outside the Zilla Parishad's office. When the village people came to know of it they also joined him in hundreds. The state government had to yield to their demand. In another instance, when a couple of families continued to leave their cattle free for grazing in spite of explaining to them the importance of stopping open grazing and of taking up massive tree plantation programme, Anna and some youth members went on fast for two days to make the people understand the seriousness of the ban on open grazing.

Today Anna has almost acquired the stature of a saint. He donated his land for the hostel building. He gives his pension money to the village fund. A confirmed bachelor, he lives in the village temple with a bare minimum of personal belongings. He eats simple food normally cooked for the hostel boys. Both his parents and brothers stay in the village but they are no different to him than any other family in the village. This moral authority growing out of his selfless life has made him an unquestioned leader of the village.

Anna's moral code of conduct is also quite strict. Anna believes that punishment is an essential component of the process to bring about conformity to social morality. When a child stole a fruit from a tree on the common lands, he was tied to a pole and the fruits were kept before him to teach him a moral lesson. The fruit bearing trees are not protected by any watchman. Not a single fruit is stolen and ripe fruits are distributed to balwadi children and the school children. Public beating was used not to create terror but to bring public shame on the defaulter so that he/she exercises more self-control. People are proud of Ralegan's achievements and they have a share and a stake in its glory. Therefore they would not do anything which will hurt Anna or bring a bad name to the village.

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