Hartal or a bandh. It is one of the major forms of protest used by almost all political parties and pressure groups in our country. It can be traced back to the period of the pre-independence movement. Gandhi and other nationalists used it as a successful tool to challenge colonial imperialism. It helped our leaders to have mass public demonstrations against British rule.
People voluntarily closed their shops, refrained from doing jobs and also boycotted British products and services. During that time, hartals were peaceful and much more related to the Gandhian idea of non-violence.
In independent India, a hartal or bandh is extensively used to organise mass public demonstrations, especially by opposition parties to oppose the decisions of the ruling party. But, this style of protest can be a harmful tool in a democratic country like India. There are several reasons for the same.
One of the key reasons behind the success of a hartal in the pre-independence period is that there was voluntary participation of people. Everyone got together to challenge colonial rule. But, in a hartal declared by political parties, people are forced to not go ahead with their day to day activities due to the fear of getting harmed by the workers of the political party which has declared the hartal.
Many who have declared hartals, have been in the habit of destroying public properties and harming people who violate the ‘rules’ of the hartal kept by leaders of the hartal/bandh. Many of the hartals end up turning violent and it leads to heavy loss of public income and in some cases, loss of human life as well.
Hartal pulls a particular area into a stagnant position. Many times, there are no economic activities taking place or even government institutions functioning on the day of a hartal. So what will be the cost incurred by the hartal on the country/state?
Every hartal has specific demands such as reducing price hike or other issues which also closely stand with the interests of the general public But can the demands be met through hartals? In most cases, no. The goals are not attained and hartal turns into a gimmick to increase the political graph of opposition parties
These days, people have started to raise voice against this undemocratic way of protest. Say No to Harthal is an organisation in Kerala to spread awareness against hartals. Members of this organisation provide transport facilities on the day of a hartal to people who are stuck in a railway station, hospitals etc., at a high risk
Political parties should stop using this undemocratic style of protest and not declare hartals to uphold the spirit of democracy and its rights.