India’s street hawkers are famously quick to spot a gap in the market and as a wave of anti-corruption rallies sweep the country, white “Gandhi” caps have suddenly become the hot item for sale.
Made out of cheap fiber, the caps sell for 10 rupees (US$0.20) each and are part of a range of T-shirts, badges and other merchandise that have sprung up around the popular anti-graft movement led by hunger striker Anna Hazare.
The hat, which Hazare wears at nearly all times, was made famous by Indian independence hero Mahatma Gandhi and should properly be made out of khadi hand-spun cotton.
For Gandhi, khadi was a symbol of how India should base its economy on village-based craft instead of industrially produced cotton often exported from mills in Britain, India’s colonial ruler until 1947.
The version hastily produced by hawkers has now become a symbol of support for Hazare, a 74-year-old activist who is holding a public hunger strike in New Delhi to demand the government act against corruption.
Many of the caps worn at the protests have “I am Anna” written in felt pen on the side to express common cause with Hazare, who has a huge poster of his hero Gandhi at the back of the stage where he has fasted since Friday.
Also popular among Hazare’s supporters are official T-shirts carrying the slogan “India Against Corruption” (110 rupees), as well as posters and flags with Hazare’s name or bespectacled face on them.
The Hindustan Times dubbed the branding frenzy “Annafest,” while the Economic Times suggested images of Hazare, a sober life-long bachelor, could even threaten the ubiquitous Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara.
Among those wearing a Gandhi hat at Hazare’s fast in Delhi on Saturday was Sudhir Rawat, a 17-year-old student.
“I’m still in uniform after attending lessons this morning, and now I am wearing this hat in support of Hazare,” he said.
Girish Gupta, 35, sporting a Gandhi hat, a badge with Hazare’s face on it and a wristband in the orange, white and green tricolor of India’s national flag, described his motivation for supporting Hazare’s campaign.
“I have to bribe someone on top of paying to rent my auto--rickshaw every day,” he said. “And I had to bribe an official 500 rupees to ensure my nephew was cremated. Hazare is for us and wants to stop these things.”
While young urban Indians wore skinny jeans and Gandhi caps bought from hawkers, others in the crowd such as farm worker Hazada Singh wore traditional cotton garments and hand-stitched caps.
“I came by train from [neighboring] Haryana State and slept on the ground here last night,” said Singh, 65. “Corruption from officials means there is suffering everywhere. I will stay for as long as Hazare is here.”