ibnlive » India

Jun 15, 2007 at 07:53am IST

Bandh becomes an oppression tool

New Delhi: Bandhs are often described as 'spontaneous gestures' of protest against authority.

That description might have been justified in the colonial period when peaceful Bandhs were an effective tool for the powerless to protest against the British Raj.

But 60 years after independence, Bandhs have themselves become a source of oppression.

Dominique Lapierre called it the City of Joy. But ask the residents of the city, saddened by frequent strikes and counter-strikes, they will say Kolkata is a City of Bandhs.

The city probably has seen more bandhs than any other in the country. The state's main political parties, the CPM and the Trinamul Congress, may not see eye to eye on many issues, but they vouch for bandhs as an effective tool for protests.

The biggest bandh this year here was in March, organised by the Trinamul over the police killings in Nandigram.

In Kerala, the other Marxist stronghold, the high court has banned bandhs. But don't political parties protest now? Of course they do. Now they call hartals instead of bandhs. The effect is the same: complete shutdown.

The supporters of bandh point out they were held during the British Rule too. Little has changed since then, and blame apathy of the Middle-Class and the Elite towards

"Nobody cares today. The state doesn't care today about the aspirations of the poor. You are looking at the middle class - my profit went down for one day, my hotel was closed, my business was stopped - of course these things happens. Let me tell you, as society becomes more and more unjust as it is today, you will have greater and greater agitations," said Human Rights Law Network Founder Director Colin Gonsalves

But it's a different story in India's business capital Mumbai. The city that's always awake simply cannot afford to sleep during the day.

Last July, the Bombay High Court, in a landmark judgement, ordered the Shiv Sena and the BJP to pay Rs 20 lakh as compensation for a bandh they organised in 2003.

Among the eight citizens who petitioned against the bandh were a motor mechanic and an autorickshaw driver, daily wage earners who are worst affected by bandhs.

But what does one do when the government calls a bandh. On March 30 this year, the DMK government held a 12-hour bandh in Tamil Nadu against an SC ruling on OBC quota in central education institutions. The government announced a holiday and later thanked everyone for making the bandh total.

The Courts verdicts on Banning Bandhs in Kerala and penalising the Shiv Sena in Mumbai have given hope to others.

The residents of the Gulberg Housing Society in Ahmedabad, have begun civil proceedings against the BJP, the RSS and the VHP for the loss of life and property during the Gujarat bandh called by the three organisations.

So, does the politcs of Bandh really address the aspirations of the poor? In recent years, Bandhs have become occasions when the politically powerful flex their muscles.

The Courts have taken a tough stand on it. Perhaps its time for the Bandh Brigade to become a little creative and people friendly in their Protest.