VANCOUVER – On Nov. 12, 1965, Anna Hazare survived an attack on his Indian army battalion by Pakistani forces, a bullet whizzing by his head.
His comrades were not as fortunate and that moment was a turning point in the young soldier’s life.
“It was at that particular moment that Hazare took an oath to dedicate his life in the service of humanity, at the age of 26,” says a biography on his website.
Almost five decades later, Hazare has been honoured with the inaugural Allard Prize for International Integrity, one of the largest awards in the world to recognize efforts to combat corruption and promote human rights.
“I have never been attracted to money and wealth, but the Allard Prize will help me and all those who are working towards the same cause to continue the fight,” he said through a translator.
“I am hopeful that this international recognition will promote a movement for change that will endure beyond my lifetime for generations to come.”
Hazare’s journey to the Wednesday night awards gala in Vancouver began after he left the Indian army, when he uncovered a scam by forest officers near his village home, where the officers collected state funds for nothing in return.
He handed over the evidence to officials, but the scam involved a minister of the ruling party and nothing was done. Hazare’s campaign began, first locally and then nationally.
Frustrated that corruption was standing in the way of development, in 1991 Hazare launched the People’s Movement Against Corruption, which eventually led him to start a hunger strike in 2003 that launched a countrywide movement for change.
Then in 2011, he launched India Against Corruption, which grew into a popular movement for legislative reform and government accountability. Tens of thousands took to the streets and Hazare again undertook a hunger strike to press for change.
Eventually, the Indian Parliament was forced to pass a resolution with key reforms, and Hazare’s movement was named one of the top 10 news stories of the year by Time magazine.
Hazare credits Indian philosophers like Swami Vivekananda and Mahatma Ghandi for inspiring his decades-long work.
“While doing this work for past several years, the response and support which I got from the entire society has given me enormous inspiration,” he said.
Hazare said the problem of corruption is not limited to India, but is a global issue.
“My dream is a corruption-free India and then the world,” he said.
The Allard Prize was established last October, with funding from UBC law school alumnus Peter Allard, to recognize those who work to fight abuses of power and suppression of human rights.
More than 100 people and groups were nominated from around the world.
Among three finalists announced last month was the group Global Witness, which has worked to raise awareness about conflict driven by natural resource exploitation, such as the blood diamond trade in Africa and the industries that funded the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.
The group was co-nominated for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize for its work on conflict diamonds.
The third finalist was Dr. Sima Samar, chairwoman of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission and women’s rights campaigner.
A refugee who fled to Pakistan in 1979 during the Soviet invasion of the country, Samar returned to Afghanistan after the Taliban government was toppled in 2002 and served as deputy president and minister of women’s affairs until she was forced to resign due to death threats.