By Rini Sinha:
â— Bharat Bandh was called by the opposition party NDA on 31 May 2012, to protest against a steep hike in petrol prices.
â— On September 20, 2012, the BJP and other Hindu nationalist parties called for a nationwide bandh in response to economic reforms such as cut in subsidies for diesel and cooking gas and FDI in multi-brand retail.
The history of bandhs, hartals, and strikes in India is quite extensive and is usually associated with political parties in the country, especially the left parties. The year 2012 witnessed numerous bandhs throughout. Having been organized by the opposition parties, they had a political hue and some people have even gone on to claim that bandhs are merely a political tool to get votes and take ‘aam aadmi’ for a ride.
What was different about the earlier bandhs and the bandh which was organized few days ago was that this one happened to be supported by all trade unions of the country to mainly protest against privatisation, outsourcing, violation of labour laws and price rise unlike the 2012 bandhs which were organized by the opposition parties.
This particular Bharat Bandh caught my attention as unlike the previous ones, this was no longer a silent and peaceful protest. On the first day of the bandh, as I normally would, I took a bus and reached college, only to get to know that one of my batch mates, who boards the same bus from Indirapuram, was caught in a mob. Apparently a mob stopped the bus, pulled the passengers out and started beating them up. It was then that my mother called to inform me that many cars and buses had also been burned, and the situation was rather tense in the industrial areas of Noida and Greater Noida.
The expression Bandh is a Hindi term, which stands for closure or shutdown. It is believed that bandhs are strong measures for civil revolution as they have a tremendous influence on the daily life of the common people. However, I find no logic for calling these strikes when so much hardship is caused to the people. The disadvantages are many; the foremost among them being the huge revenue losses the State has to bear. For instance, according to the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), the nation-wide strike against the government’s reforms on September 20, 2012 is estimated to have caused losses of Rs 12,500 crore to the Indian economy. Moreover, due to fear of political turbulence and chaos, educational institutions are primarily affected. People who are travelling encounter a lot of problems in commuting to their desired destination. Also, since the transportation system during a bandh is usually crippled, patients can’t reach the hospitals on time in cases of emergency.
A Bharat Bandh is usually premised on the notion that it voices the dissent of the common people. However, it also becomes pertinent to question the nature of such a hartal, which turns highly troublesome for the majority of Indian population and brings life to a standstill. Having said that, the recurrence of strikes in the past year cannot be simply dismissed as a triviality. While I admit that the participants of a bandh do not represent the entire ‘aam aadmi’, but it nevertheless is at least a sizeable representation of the same. A bandh clearly depicts the crisis which the masses are going through, thanks to the never stopping hikes in the country. It also highlights the frustration running in the working classes who despite long running hours, barely manage to make ends meet.
Undeniably, the prices of almost all commodities are going up, and it is only utopian to believe that organizing a ‘bandh’ itself will bring down soaring prices. I understand that only sensible discussions and talks can bring us to a feasible solution and these talks should serve the interest of the common people. However, what happens when there is complete breakdown of communication between the government and its citizens?
While it may not provide solutions or be the correct way to protest, when in distress, a bandh seems to be the only option at hand!