Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Mass Agitations -- Manias and Phobias.

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.”


virginio lobo said...

the silence is only apparent. The word as the snowflake in the snow. Do you see it?
thank you for your attention

Icarus said...

Biby Cletus left a note on my blog (Gandhi's Legacy), pointing me to this article. I would like to thank him for letting me get a peek at the pole opposite from where I am, or probably more correctly, the other hemisphere.

I do not wish to express my opinions about many of the points in this article, as my opinions are generally not politically correct, and as much as possible, I do not indulge in arguments which I know can never be settled.

But one thing that I would like to comment on (as it is related to my own blog entry on which Biby had left his comment) is that the hartal as it is practiced today, is a forceful shut down of public life. If it is said that 'a forceful implementation of Hartal can never be accepted', it is implied that the hartal cannot be accepted.

Protest should not be suppressed. But protest should not be forced on people. Those who want to, may protest. Let them take out a procession. Let them use the media to let their protest known. Let them do anything that is legal, and not anti-social. But they have no right whatsoever to decide that people should not go about the activities of their daily lives. Freedom of expression is not the right to take away the freedom of those who are not interested in the same cause. People who are against the hartal do not suffer from any phobia. They are just being responsible. It is all about having common sense. It is about ceasing to be selfish about political motives. It is about having respect for fellow humans. Did a forceful shut down of public life in Kerala seem reasonable when Saddam Hussein was hanged? It is true that the people of Kerala have the power to react; what they need is the responsibility to choose wisely when to use that power. Protesters all over the world should heed the words of the Serenity Prayer, which goes something like this:

"God, grant me the serenity to accept the things that I cannot change, the courage to change the things that I can, and the wisdom to tell the difference."

It is the last thing that most of them do not have.

Anonymous said...

Yes I like your blog, too - very thoughtful and provocative!

Anonymous said...

I like your blog Biby Cletus - it's very thoughtful, provocative and open to optimism!

CW said...

Thanks again to Biby for directing me to this thoughtful post. I blogged about the hartals briefly and superficially, so glad to have the history behind it.

That guy said...

Hi biby Cletus, I searched your blog looking for and artice posted by you but couldnt find one so im going to post it here hopefully you'll get it. I like your blog too its nice and well put together. thanks for your kind words. I'll drop your url on my blog if you do the same. Stay in touch! EVERYONE ELSE! CHECK OUT MY BLOG!

Anonymous said...

obliged visit to blog!

EdenAnn said...

Hi, thanks for dropping by :)

Your blog is great! ^____^
you are so warm.
I'll visit your blogs too:)

Ana Paula Sena said...

Kerala Articles blog is a very good one.Very, very thoughtful! I like that.
Thank's for your comment on my own blog!
Can i link Kerala Articles?
Thank you for your attention.

chithra said...

I wont say the solution to the problem is to completly ban hartals, but certainly it cannot be continued in its present state, where it a weapon of horror than weapon of mass protest.

There should be conditions and restrictions to it to make it a more civilized means of protest. Some suggetions are:
There should be notice in advance before a hartal, at least a week before.
It should not be a 24hr protest unless the issue is of such importance. Time can be limited from 4 - 6 hrs.
There should not be any ban on private vehicles.

I am sure there would be much more innovative ideas which will help to change the present state of FORCED PROTEST...

Indian Lawyer said...

Thanks Biby for your nice comment on my blog "Bandh baptized as Harthal" at
Agreeing much to the comment left above by Mr.Icarus, I'd like to assert that any kind of harthal, bandh etc, whether forceful or otherwise is synonymous to undesirable blood clots in our bloodstream and to be avoided at any cost. To display protests, we have to explore other possibilities ..

CaptainMathanga said...

Great comment icarus.

I have read both the articles and agree in parts with both of them. I believe that hartal should be used as the last option and only when a huge majority of people are against something.

I am against banning it altogether though. But i dont deny that some form of control should be there. Coz we all know restraint is a word alien to our politicians.

But i am also against your describing yourself as not being a patriot. I do not feel it is a bad thing to be a patriot. I feel only a patriot will feel the pain needed to make changes.

Also I believe that Gandhi for all his flaws was able to unite this ever fractured nation for a cause. If not for anything else he should be commended for that. As for the operating expenses of the british, it became inoperable because of the constant agitations and loss of revenue from these agitations. If we had continued to be submissive the british wouldn't have a problem in governing us.

Angelina said...

This was a really interesting article and well written too. It's given me a lot of food for thought.

Thanks for visiting my blog Biby Cletus!

Gokul said...

Icarus…. I read your article and your comment… not debating on all the points you have put in your article, as a exactly opposite point of view is already there in my article. But would like to comment about one of your points.

“Even more weird was the hartal - a synonym for bandh - declared by some outfits in the state of Kerala when Saddam Hussein - who obviously has no relationship with Kerala - was hanged, more than 3000 kilometres away, in Baghdad”

First of all I have made it very clear that my objective was not supporting any kind of forceful implantation of Hartals. But the hartal in Kerala, on the execution of saddam was not called by “some outfits”, as you have described in your article, but in fact it was called by all major political parties in kerala (who are having public support). So it was in fact a manifestation of the anger and outrage that the people had against an injustice. Also your point that he was executed some 3000 km away does not relegate the brutality of the injustice. The fact that people reacted at, was the illegitimate invasion of some “first world countries” in the name of saving the world and brutal execution of the president of Iraq. More over in most of the parts of Kerala the reaction of the people was spontaneous, and they participated in the call for Hartal with out any force.

I agree that not all Keralities were of the opinion that Saddam’s execution was an Injustice, It can be alleged that Saddam was a dictator who deserved such a fate. But that might not have been the case with majority. And we cannot say that mass agitations should only be put into action only when all and sundry back an issue. When a huge majority of people are for it, it should be accepted. And it would be hypothetical to believe that on any major issues everyone will have same opinion. Though a minority, there were people who believed that our Independence movement was an illegitimate mass agitation (There are people who still believe so!). But by any definition democracy is rule of Majority. And by theory what majority decides will be more or less correct. That’s the reason why this form government is still in existence.

Your comments about the reaction at Saddam‘s execution echoes a selfishness, why should we bother until its not we who are at the receiving end? But please refer history for lessons of “dangers of political apathy”.

Anonymous said...

well dear all, i found mr gokul here stating the hartals protesting the execution of saddam as a manifestation of anger and outrage that the people had against injustice. i beg to differ. did u say people, did any of the commoner in kerala really protest, hell no, he was too happy with the news, only political parties protested and u know why ??? if not i'll tell u it was nothing but the muslim vote bank that did the trick,and not the spirit to fight against injustice. its high time u all realise power politics playin its role and the party supporters finding excuses to defend the policies the party adopts due to it. u'll sure get tired of it very fast. better realise the truth sooner rather than later. lol.

Anonymous said...

u know why there were 2 days hartal in kerala when saddam was executed, hi hi it was because iraquis were given 2 days holidays when our ex chief minister mr e m s namboothirippad and mr e k nayanar died. lol. so pls dnt cribb.

Anonymous said...

well being one among the nri's who were earlier in kuwait during the time of war and who had to leave a lifetimes worth of savings behind to flee to one's homeland along with some 3000 or so fellow countrymen i sipmly cannot agree with keralites protesting the saddams execution. no other person in history has done more cruelity to malloos than him. and a siple question to those who did protest , my dear countrymen what made u do it. was it love for saddam, was it hatred for the us, or was it something else, as far as my imagination goes i cant find any reason why any malayalee should love saddam, from iran iraq war that lasted 12 yrs and practicalled ruined both the countries economies to the kuwait invation, what's so admirable in it, i find those acts condemnable and have u ever thought if a dictator like saddam who has murdered his own brothers to maintain power had the powers the likes of us or uk , well i cant even think of it... no point in arguing to those who pretend to be asleep... only the one's who has suffered at their hands could really feel... i pray for world peace and that no one should ever meet the fate me and my family suffered.

Icarus said...

Gokul, I would not want to start a flame war on your page, but my guess is you are enjoying the attention. So here goes...

I do not understand why you still mention a 'forceful' hartal in your polemic. Is there something called 'voluntary' hartal? If not, then all hartals are 'forceful'. This is called bad definition.

I like to call the 'major political parties' in Kerala, 'some outfits', because that is what they are on the world stage - insignificant. (I would like to bring them to the world stage because the hanging of Saddam Hussein had international impact.) This is called knowing your place in the world.

Hanging Saddam Hussein was an injustice, you say? To whom, may I ask? To the thousands of Kurds he slaughtered? To the majority of Shias in Iraq who actually enjoyed watching him die? To the minority of Sunnis who did not? Deducing from your logic on majorities and minorities, if the majority of the Iraqis thought hanging Saddam was justified, why in the world should Malayalis think otherwise? If you think 'some "first world countries"' have no right to police the world, why do you think Malayalis have the right to judge what happens in the world? This is called hypocrisy.

Reiterating myself, I never said that mass agitation should happen only when everyone backs an issue. That is an impossibility. What I said is that the way they carry out their agitation is wrong. Let them carry out an agitation in a civilised way; let them take out a procession. Let the self-important media of the country publish full-page articles, all-day long programs. Do you think only Malayalis have a sense of justice? That protests happen only in Kerala? Protests happen all over the world. But how often do we see entire industries coming to a standstill, the whole gamut of public life abruptly coming to a halt, in the USA, in the UK, in Japan? As for the majority being always right, during the time of the Nazis, the majority of Germans thought they were racially superior, and the majority supported Adolf Hitler in his campaigns. Moral of the story: The majority is not always right.

As another example of the hypocrisy in existence in your writings, I would like to bring your attention to the BJP, whom you implicitly describe as one of 'two political parties who till now have not received any support from the people of Kerala to open an account in legislature assemblies'. For your information, it is only in Kerala that the BJP does not have any political representation. All over India the BJP is a prominent political entity, and it has come to power in many states and once in the country, procuring the majority of votes. You can use my own argument against me here, that the majority is not always right, or you can realise the hypocrisy in your arguments.

You think my comments on Saddam's hanging 'echoes a selfishness'? I don't know think so; I think it echoes rationality. But speaking about selfishness, I am selfish, like any other person on Earth. It is only that very few people have that lack of hypocrisy to admit it.

Coming to the last point about not bothering about things for which we are not at the receiving end, when Slobodan Milošević was arrested and put in jail, and when he died in prison, did the Malayalis raise an eyebrow? When Zulfikar Ali Bhutto was hanged, did the Malayalis object? When Mahendra Chaudry was deposed and arrested in Fiji, what was the Malayalis doing? When the twin towers of the World Trade Center was attacked by Muslim terrorists, did the CPI(M), or the Congress(I), or the BJP, or anyone else announce a hartal, objecting to this heinous action? Malayalis are one bunch of selfish, senseless, self-righteous hypocrites, who, if they so had the inclination, can differentiate between chaff and grain, but refuse to when it comes to politics. Refer history for the dangers of political apathy, you say? I say, watch out for the dangers of political activism in the future of Kerala.

SNAKE said...

your BLOG is very unique.

Gokul said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gokul said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gokul said...

Icarus, I don’t agree with your arguments….

I don’t think that forceful Hartal is a bad definition. Hartals, by definition are not forceful. When Mahatma Gandhi formulated Hartals as a means of civil disobedience, he never meant it to be forced upon people. I never heard history talking about Mahatma Gandhi or his party intimidating people to participate in the Hartal he called for, or persecuting those who did not “obey” his requests. If it is Mahatma who devised such tool then, how he used it becomes the definition. And that definition is that Hartal is a request to the public to be part of a protest (there is no element of force involved in it, by the basic definition).

Unfortunately sometimes the political parties twisted the definition to suit their needs. Then it gave rise to a new form of Hartal which is forced upon the people (Called Bandh till some years ago). I said I am against forceful Hartals. But there exits some thing called Hartal in which people participate voluntarily.

Please explain me how the political parties who ruled Kerala for last 50 years, are insignificant on world stage? What makes a political party significant on a world stage?
• Is it their monetary assets?
• Is it their cader strength?
• Is it about the significance of their ideology?
Or to my ignorance is there any political party anywhere in the world which is multinational (Except Communist International, which is nonexistent now) --- Comprises of people from different nationalities—So that it’s a world political party?
Or are you considering America as the world and hence only Democratic and Republican parties are significant on a world (Alias American) stage?

We the people of Kerala know our place in the world. As any other human being, we are also part of this small world we have the same rights as anyone else is having. My dear friend you are forgetting the fact that world is called a global village because what ever you do the world around watches you and judge you.

I never said that Saddam is true humanist and needs to have place in the history along with Buddha or Mahatma. But what the people of Kerala (or at least “the outfits” in Kerala) protested against was at the injustice of attacking a country without any mandate from the UN, in the name of saving the world from so called WMDs (which they never retrieved) and executing a leader who fought for his country without any proper trial (If there were any sincerity, they should have at least tried Saddam in International court in Hague). He was not executed by a government elected by the people of Iraq. The trial was a farce. The aim was only to annihilate their obstacles in a bid for colonization.

To the list of things to which people of Kerala did not react, please add one more thing. We did not protest in the same manner when Iraq was attacked by US led coalition in first Gulf war. It is because; they had a valid cause at that time and a proper mandate from UN. The question why didn’t we react to Twin tower attack in USA by Al-Qaeda is absurd, because the intention of a democratic political agitation is to demonstrate the protest that people are having, to a system which believes in democracy and humanity. The world considers Al quaida as a terrorist outfit and not a group which works by ethics of humanity.

The list of incidents cited by you, to which people of Kerala have not reacted, only shows their political wisdom.

I agree to the point that majority is not always right (In India, we have seen it in Gujarat, when genocidal Modi Govt was re-elected by people of Gujarat). But remember majority is right in majority of the times.

Hari Vishnu said...

i agree with u..except for a lil bit here and there, almost totally.. same experiences as mine..

and i also liked the last quote by pastor martin niemoller.. sounds like one of my friends here who used to argue for the case of student politics against me..