The system of class assembly, in which each class had to take up the responsibility of the assembly and showcase our talents every Friday, was followed in my school. I vividly remember the theme of my class assembly when I was in Class 9. We went on to do a play about a college boy, who declared strikes for ditzy reasons, causing inconvenience to the entire college. The play ended ironically, with a strike declared on the day of the very boy’s marriage causing inconvenience to the guests in arriving for the function, hence becoming a huge disappointment to the boy and his family. The play was a humdinger, owing to the fact that it was (and still is) in context to the situation in Kerala.
Any person, who has lived in Kerala for at least 6 months, would have taken the brunt of these consistent ‘hartals’. Absolutely anything, starting from the rise in petrol prices to something as trivial as the construction of a flyover, could be the reason for inciting a strike. Regardless of political clout, a strike could be declared by any person or organization. The democratic governance of our country indeed encourages people to voice their opinions but isn’t this more like taking advantage of the democracy? Democracy is more on the lines of expressing one’s personal opinion in a non-violent way, without causing any inconvenience to fellow citizens. These ‘hartals’ are nowhere close to being convenient and non-violent. There were several occasions where these hartals caused sporadic incidents of violence. Hurling of stones on cars which runs as against the rules of the strike has often caused injuries and in some cases deaths.
Any common man, who lives in Kerala, would wholeheartedly support my view that these strikes, other than causing disruption to the normal lives, had not been of any good till date. They effectively cause large scale monetary losses and distress. Staging over 100 hartals annually, Kerala has gained the negative reputation of being the state, where shutdown calls by any political party will be a sure success. Ironically, Kerala is the first state to have banned hartals.
Educational institutions, government offices and shops remain shut the whole day. The roads would be deserted and no one dares to get out of the safety of their homes. Hence these hartals, with their senseless means of expressing their anger, have been successful in instilling fear in the hearts of an average Keralite.
Kerala is known for a myriad of good reasons starting from its rich culture to its mesmerizing backwaters. However these frequent hartals stand out as a negative point, often overshadowing all the positive aspects of the state. Being a state, which thrives majorly on tourism and exports, such disruptions are indeed a disheartening affair. However, such strikes are blending into the culture of the state. It would be amusing to know hartals are being converted into state holidays and that even TV channels broadcast special movies for the “hartal victims”.
In the end, the question as to what these strikes achieve remains. The leader of the political party which declared the hartal may go on rambling about how the hartal was successful and how the public acquiesced to it. The truth is these political parties have been successful enough to generate fear in the public. It is high time for the people residing in Kerala, to step out of their cocoons and stop supporting such anti-social acts. A recent incident, in which a certain bus service continued to operate, in spite of an ongoing strike, made the hartal a total failure.
Hence the chances of attaining such a utopia are not bleak! So will this incident be a lesson to all, to get going with their lives despite such troubling acts? Has it taught the people to rebel such shutdown calls and lead normal lives? The next hartal would give us the answer.