Standing at Kaloor junction under a scorching sun with a heavy backpack on her shoulders and chilled bottled water in one hand, Jennifer, a native of Belgium, had a puzzled look on her face.
The dawn-to-dusk hartal called by the Hindu Aikya Vedi in the district that forced public transport to go off the road for most part of the day, had left her and two tourist friends on the way to Fort Kochi in the lurch. “What’s this hartal,” she asked with a heavy accent.
When explained what hartal meant, she was not at all amused by a protest mode that put ordinary passengers to immense difficulty. Her friend Simeon was curious to know whether it was a frequent mode of protest and had a broad smile when told that hopefully hartals would be less frequent this year.
Manikandan and his wife from Tamil Nadu on their way to Chottanikkara were also caught unawares by the hartal on reaching the Vyttila Mobility Hub at noon.
Sivan Pillai, who had come from Kayamkulam for an appointment at Kakkanad, had to ask the person concerned to meet him at the mobility hub after he failed to find even an autorickshaw.
The mobility hub that usually choked with buses remained largely empty except for long distance KSRTC buses and private buses parked on one side.
The policeman manning the prepaid autorickshaw counter said that drivers could not be forced to operate on account of safety concerns. Autorickshaws were few and far between even outside the hub.
KSRTC officials said services from the Ernakulam depot were operated with police escort and on routes as directed by the police.
Functioning of government offices were also hit with the district collectorate recording staff strength of only 20 per cent. Trade was also affected as majority of the shops remained closed.
The hartal was by and large peaceful though incidents of forced closure of shops and obstruction of vehicles were reported from many parts of the district including Nedumbassery, Chengamanad, Chottanikkara, and Pathalam in Eloor. Tension prevailed in Perumbavur police limits for a while when a protest march by the Hindu Aikya Vedi met with slogan shouting from another group at Palakkattuthazham Bridge. Police rushed to the spot and dispersed both the groups.