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The hunger strike and the voice of consciousness

Catalan Newspaper ASA
By Professor  

Following the hunger strike of the four Catalan independentist leaders, the themes of non-violent action and civil disobedience have been brought back to the table. Hunger strike as a form of protest goes back to pre-Christian Rome, but it is a strategy that Mahatma Gandhi renewed and remodeled as a form of non-violent struggle against oppression and injustice. However, Gandhi had a very defined concept of fasting and did not invite everyone to do it.According to him, "the weapon of fasting cannot be used lightly. It can easily have a sense of violence, unless it is used by an expert in this art. I affirm that I am an artist. " For Gandhi, the hunger strike was a fantastic weapon to exercise the satyagraha, and it had not been used illegally. In this regard, he considered that dissidents should not fast for an egoistic purpose. "A fast that is made to obtain money from a person or to achieve a personal goal would be equivalent to the exercise of coercion or undue influence. I would defend without hesitation an opposition to this undue influence, "Gandhi wrote in September of 1933 in his weekly newspaper, called Harijan. Mahatma Gandhi made 17 fasts during the Indian freedom movement, and in some cases endangered his life. On January 12, 1948, in New Delhi, Gandhi undertook his last successful fasting, with which he wanted to convince Hindus and Muslims of this city to work for peace. On January 30, when almost two weeks had finished fasting, he was murdered by a Hindu extremist while going to an afternoon prayer. 

Mahatma Gandhi considered that the hunger strike was an act of spiritual nobility. For him, it was an act of self-purification. Although he had a less spiritual perspective than Gandhi, Gene Sharp, the American theorist of non-pragmatic violence, saw an effective method, among other things, of nonviolent action in the hunger strike. Referring to the famed and fierce hunger strikes of Bobby Sands, who was 27 years old, and three of his colleagues from the Irish Republican Army, Sharp defined this mechanism of action as a "political shock tactic." According to Sharp, what caused the famine strikes in the Maze prison in Belfast to be special was that "they helped make indifference a kind of repulsion." Although the Wreck of Hunger of the IRA ended with the tragic death of Bobby Sands, in May 1981, marked the beginning of a long process of politicization of the Republican movement in Ireland. The Republican movement set a path that would ultimately lead to a cease-fire, a political agreement and a distribution of power. Finally, the Irish independentists came to the conclusion that violence had become counterproductive.

It is not surprising that Catalan independentists have always considered that violence is not the right path. We can not say the same about the Spanish government and some Spanish political parties. According to Human Rights Watch and other human rights organizations, the Spanish police used an excessive force when facing protesters in Catalonia in 2017 and 2018: he used bans against protesters who did not pose any threat and It caused multiple wounds. Needless to say, violence has never been alongside the pro-independence party. In the same way, the objective of the Catalan prisoners who were hungry was not to incite violence, but to dialogue and a future nonviolent action. The revolutions are usually measured by the blood and the martyrs they cause. The spirit of Catalan independence is measured by its nonviolence. 

Now, what is needed for Catalans to foster political humiliation, physical attacks and imprisonment in the hope that unionists understand their point of view? For Martin Luther King, "the strong man is the man who does not want to return the coup, who knows how to defend his rights but, on the other hand, does not return the blow." This is how the legacy of the moral victory that engenders non-violent change has been imposed over and over again. It is currently taking place in Catalonia. As a result, the hunger strike of imprisoned pro-independence leaders has been a moral act that sought to create a crisis and fuel tension because a community that has consistently refused to negotiate is forced to face the problem. He has also tended to dramatize a topic, that of Catalan independence, which can no longer be ignored. 

Henry David Thoreau, the American writer, environmentalist and social activist, moved Mahatma Gandhi to protest against the racist and unjust measures of the South African government. Gandhi organized his fight with a hunger strike of six days. It is known that Thoreau himself spent one night in the jail of Concord for refusing to pay the tax for the vote. Thoreau believed that this tax fostered the war between the United States and Mexico and the expansion of slavery to the southwest. Thoreau hoped that his stay in prison and the fact that he refused to pay the tax to the suffrage sensitized the citizens of Massachusetts on these problems. The famous American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson visited Thoreau in prison. The meeting became famous because Emerson asked Thoreau: "Henry, why are you here?", And Henry David Thoreau replied: "Waldo, why are not you here?" More ahead, Thoreau wrote: "Under a government that unjustly jails, the place where it must be a man is indeed the prison". Where should we go to seek justice in the current world? We have to go to the White House, the Kremlin, the Palace of the Elysée and the Spanish Parliament or, in Thoreau's way, we should go looking for it between the #MeToo movement, the Russian dissidents, the vests yellow 'French and the leaders of Catalan independence who have made the hunger strike? The answer does not depend on the living conditions that fate has given us, it is the result of refusing to keep our good conscience silently. This is the last area that we have left to defend humanity.

Ramin Jahanbegloo is professor, vice dean and director of Mahatma Gandhi Centre for Peace Studies at O.P. Jindal Global University.