The Hartal Culture: How Much Is Too Much?

97! Uff just three short of a century. This is the number of days Kerala has seen hartals in 2018. According to an estimate, this has taken away a staggering Rs.7,200 to state’s GDP. Not to mention the loss in investments.

It’s not just the economy that suffers; there are schools and colleges who are unable to finish the curriculum and are struggling to meet the minimum number of working days required. Tourism is the most affected sector by the frequent hartals, people are stranded with no means of transport. Last year even saw hartals being conducted on social media calls.

Kerala courts were the first to ban bandhs in 1997. Over the years, it reemerged as hartals. Hartals are nothing but renamed form of ‘bandh’, where shops and commercial institutions are forced to shut down, vehicle movements are restricted. People take a day off and sit at home.

While Supreme Court has rejected pleas to declare hartals as unconstitutional, it has held that hartals should not cause any inconvenience to others.

Kerala government’s regulation to hartal bill in 2015 was put on hold due to strong opposition. The resistance against these hartals has been increasing over the past few years. This has led to reduction in number of statewide hartals, however local hartals have seen a spike.

While hartals are democratic means of protests, it cannot obstruct the fundamental rights of others. The authorities need to ensure this. The organisations calling for hartals needs to be more sensible and clearly state the objective it hopes to achieve by declaring a hartal.

If we do an impact analysis on past hartals for its influence on policies, I doubt we would hardly find any. It’s up to us, the common people, to fight back the unnecessary hartals.

The good news is that several organizations have come together and decided to fight these hartals. Yet the most recent hartal on Jan 3, 2019 saw a total shut down and violence across the state. Certain villages like Pulluvazhy in Ernakulam have successfully kept hartals outside their premises for years through collective will.

Governments need to put in place strict regulations to penalize groups causing destruction to properties during hartals. Political parties need to rethink their means of protests. And it’s the masses who can force to make them think otherwise.


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