Recently I read an article in this blog, describing kerala as "hartal's own country". The author was sarcastically suggesting that we should in fact think of having a hartal department to build strategies on "how to inflict maximum damage to the public on a Hartal day?”
Are we becoming a society of strike maniacs or was it a thinking of an intellectual suffering from a strike phobia? So, as the author indirectly suggests, should we strive for a ban on all kinds of mass agitations? I don’t agree with it at all. Certainly, treatment for headache is not beheading.
Strikes / protests / agitations by the people unpopular/unacceptable policies /actions of Govt /employer /organizations are not only a phenomenon in India. In fact the countries which “enjoy” zero strikes are “enjoying” dictatorships as well.
Definitely I am not arguing for more and more Hartals, on the contrary I agree that hartals have now become a dilapidated political weapon. Blame should be on our politicians who used it for most unjustifiable causes. A very evident example is the two recent Hartals in Kerala against the govt’s decision to borrow money from Asian Development Bank. A most interesting fact in these two Hartals was that it was called by two political parties who till now have not received any support from the people of Kerala to open an account in legislature assemblies. In both of these cases the Hartal exploited the fear of violence in the people. A forceful implementation of Hartal can never be accepted. This is in fact stealing the civil liberties of the public, for whom the protesters claim their fight is for.
Hartal is a mass agitation, institutionalized by Gandhiji as a form of civil disobedience. There after it remains as the most powerful political weapon for articulating socio-political demands.
But a major difference between the civil disobedience organized by Gandhiji and the present day hartal is that
1) The element of self sacrifice is lacking in the present form
2) Instead of persuasion, compulsion by terror is used in present day Hartals. This has pushed even the level headed thinkers to speak and act against hartals.
But this does not justify the allegation that all mass agitations are “weapons of mass destruction” and the call to annihilate all means of mass agitations. This state of mind of some intellectuals against all kinds of protests and agitations will only promote selfishness and a state of Insensitiveness towards the sufferings of their fellow humans. What I oppose is an attempt to hijack the legitimate legal and moral right to protest.
A true democracy must bestow the rights to protest in a peaceful way and we enjoy it too. But the slothfulness in reacting to social issues and intolerance to all forms of mass agitations shows that we still suffer from remnants of colonial slavery. I have seen many people being “nostalgic” of the BritishRaj as “those good old days”, which “unfortunately ended in 1947”. These proponents of British rule promulgate the developments (Railways especially) in India as mercy from the “benevolent” masters, but gracefully forgets that these were developed by the colonizers for the movement of their military and materials and not for the luxury of poor Indians. I have read that Hitler once commented about Indians as “race born to be slaves”. Though it is certainly incorrect, we have our proud heroes who valiantly fought against those robbers of freedom, but it should not be forgotten that a vast majority of Indians needed one Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (Not forgetting the contributions of other great leaders) to wake them up from the sleep, nearly after 100 years of colonial invasion.
In the midnight of 14th August in1947 what we gained was not only a political freedom but during the process we learnt about self esteem, pride, sensitiveness to social issues. We were reminded of the rights we have as human beings and about the need to have a fighting spirit to defend it. All major public movements in this country achieved more than its original objectives by grooming the public psyche to standup against subjugation of any kind. Land reforms movement in Kerala not only ended feudalism but it instilled a new light of self esteem in the masses whose pride was battered by the feudal system.
So any attempt silence the social movements (with or with out political reason), may have a larger repercussion, like creating a society of slaves (Political or economic slavery). One argument put forward by the apologists of the system is that every strikes/protest incurs a huge loss of business hours. It is a pity to project the very purpose of life is to provide an environment conducive for economic growth. A true development has to be multidimensional and should involve socio-political dimensions along with economic growth. Living with pride and prestige is not a privilege of rich alone.
Politicians of our country should understand that they are responsible for the loss of credibility of a most powerful weapon of mass agitation by its untimely use for unjustifiable causes. If this continues the most powerful public weapon, mass agitation, will be lost for ever and it may pave way for something similar to Nazism. Though now there is general consensus among the public that national emergency declared by Indira Gandhi in 1975 is the black mark on the shining 50 years of Indian democracy, it was in fact initially welcomed by many people as proper step to instill a discipline. The tide of tiring strikes and shutdowns prevailed at that time might have triggered this initial reaction, though in later years it was proved too costly.
But again none of the adversities of the means of mass agitation will ever justify a call to annihilate it. There was a lot of hue and cry from a section about the manner in which the people of Kerala and some other parts of India reacted to the brutal execution of ousted Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein. But I feel proud to be born in a society which has still not lost its powers to react. To those who still yell for an unresponsive, castrated society, I dedicate the famous poem by Pastor Martin Niemöller (about the inactivity of German intellectuals during the Nazi rise to power).
“First they came for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up,
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left
to speak up for me.”