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What are India's Anna Hazare protests all about?

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“When you have to deal with a local policeman, he has a stick to beat you. Now you have a bigger guy with a bigger stick to watch over him – but now you have to deal with him too,” says Usha Ramanathan, a legal researcher. “I don’t want to give anyone that kind of power.”

The street protesters, however, clearly want a little more stick applied to the pervasive problem of corruption.

Examples of frustration

One protester, a retired colonel named J.P. Bhatia, gave an example from his own life. A faulty electricity meter at his home is overcharging him by more than $100 every month. He complained to the government engineer, who confirmed the problem and ordered it fixed in April – but it remains broken.

“Everywhere there is bureaucratic delay to extract money,” he says.

Colonel Bhatia admits he could file a petition to find out who is sitting on the case. India’s Right to Information Act (RTIA) forces government to respond to any citizen’s questions within 30 days.

The dilemma: When information finally does come back proving wrongdoing, then what?

“I’ll have to go to consumer court, but it could take my lifetime,” says Bhatia. “There have been cases in the country going for 20 years, even 40 years.”

Many protesters expressed frustration by the lack of punishment in the string of high-profile scams by top officials recently.

Vanita Deshmukh, a newspaper editor and Hazare supporter in Pune, pointed to the corruption surrounding last year’s Commonwealth Games. RTIA requests uncovered misdeeds by organizers. Some have been arrested, but the process is moving too slowly for many Indians embarrassed by the tarnishing of the country’s international image.

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