India has celebrated its 70 years of independence. Our predecessors fought hard and long against our common enemy, the British. Across the world there have been struggle for freedom from colonial forces, but what set our freedom struggle apart was that our weapon of protest was ‘non-violence’, championed by the father of the nation, Gandhiji. Thence, we’re on the road to development as a nation in the areas of education, health, infrastructure development, modernization, etc. However, sad as we must admit, the independent nation is slowly being torn apart in the name of political ideologies, religion, caste, region, language, etc.
To protest against injustice in itself is right. India gained independence through a saga of protests. But post-independence, protests or “bandhs” became a tool in the hands of political parties and party leaders to ‘use’ their followers to grind their own axe. The sacred philosophy of ‘non-violence’ gave way to rampant violence; destruction of public property and political murders became part and parcel of the legalized-hooliganism named ‘bandh’.
Here in God’s Own Country, the political parties stopped using the word “bandh” after the Kerala High Court banned it in the end of 1990s. The bandhs didn’t stop though. They were just replaced with the word “hartal”. Today Kerala is known as “Hartals’ Own State”, with the state coming to a complete standstill for over 300 days in the last 6-7 years. Though the true spirit of hartal is based on non-violence or sathyagraha, in actuality today political goondaism is being masqueraded as hartal. Incidents of violence are common when political parties enforce hartals. Such a trend gave rise to ‘political murders’. Often political
ideological differences are settled by shedding blood and settling the equation with a saga of bloodsheds. Despite being an assault on the fundamental rights, people stopped reacting against hartals because of these incidents of gruesome violence.
The tourism industry – the tourists and tour operators alike, are the worst hit during hartals. When a hartal is called, people including foreign visitors are stranded, being forced to spend the whole day in a public place or indoors, without having anything to do, anything to eat or drink. A traumatic experience, I’m sure, they won’t cherish. Those propagating this legalized vandalism, namely the political parties, won’t agree with you that it’s a social menace. Each of them would convince you that the hartal they observe are for public good and those protests called by other parties are against the public interest. Political murders are wedded to hartals here and the victims are always common people. Never have we seen a prominent political leader or their family becoming a victim of political violence.
Those who destroy public property, those who justify such hooliganism and those who support and protect the culprits are all committing unforgivable crime against society. Isn’t it a crime to forcefully house arrest people on the hartal day? Forcefully shutting shops, denying access to medical treatment, stopping students from writing examinations, destroying public property worth crores of rupees – aren’t these all heinous crimes, crime against fundamental rights? Isn’t it a war against the common man?
The anger and frustration against this menace is dormant in the minds of the majority, but rarely do we see anyone reacting against it. A few years back, during the Cliff House Protest called by a political party, the mother of a school-going child voiced her protest against blocking her way to her house. I, for one, was surprised and enthused by the courage shown by a common woman to voice her protest against the powerful protesters – something, I believe, each of us feel like doing, but won’t have the courage. I took the opportunity to recognize that woman’s courage by giving an award, so that many others may take note of this incident and respond likewise. Similarly, I do support initiatives like ‘Say No To Hartal’.
The lone voices against hartals have not been strong enough to influence the policy makers. And, feeble attempts by certain political factions, too, have been torpedoed. It’s high time that the political parties and others adopt alternative methods of protest and say NO to violent hartals. As I said, to protest against injustice is everyone’s right, but we should remember that your quest for justice shouldn’t be at the cost of denying the rights of others.