Every day, my six-year old daughter, who is a first standard student in the GUPS, and I leave home together at 9 a.m. Leaving her in the school, I go to the bus stop to catch my bus to office. One day, I waited longer than I had to wait, but the bus was not coming.
Then somebody who knows me came up and asked, “Didn’t you know? There is a hartal in the panchayat area where you work. Somebody stabbed to death somebody yesterday late in the evening.”
The hartal was called by the political party to which the deceased belonged, thinking that the other rival party murdered him. (Later, when the culprit was nabbed, it turned out that he also belonged to the same party and both the killed and the killer were goondas).
Three days later, again buses are not seen. A man was hacked and admitted to hospital. A hartal is being observed en route to my office. I travelled around the hartal area and reached office and in the evening took another route to home. Instead of 7 km, I had to travel 40 km!
Again, two days later, when I reached office everybody was coming out and the peon was locking the entrance door! A party was observing a district-wide hartal and it was on a communal issue.
Fortunately, my wife was on leave as my daughter was suffering from wheezing and the child was not sent to school. (All my colleagues were calling to their homes to know whether their children had returned home from school. Everybody was out of his/her home and stranded on the way!) We sat in front of the office till the evening as refugees and somehow managed to reach home.
The other day, my colleague, who comes from another part of the district, called to say that he could not come as there was a hartal in his area in protest against the murder of a murderer.
These instant hartals deal with local ‘issues’. After having had to ‘celebrate’ three instant hartals within a week, I was surprised to hear the news of a grand hartal (Statewide) planned and declared three days in advance! It was against the proposals for protecting the Western Ghats.
On the eve of the grand hartals, there are long queues in front of Beverages Corporation outlets and a heavy rush is seen in poultry shops. People are collecting the necessary ingredients to celebrate the hartal.
If you think hartals are anti-democratic and the people suffer greatly, no political party will agree with you. Each one of them says the hartals they observe are for the public good and those protests called by other parties are against the public interest. Often, people are not bothered even to know for what ‘cause’ the hartal is being observed.
When a hartal is observed, people including foreign tourists are stranded at railway stations. Being forced to spend the whole day in a public space without having anything to do, anything to eat, anything to drink is something traumatic especially for children and women.
But, the following day, the party that had called the hartal would claim gleefully that it was a great success. The main factor that makes hartals a success or grand success or medium success is the mastery of the parties concerned in the art of vandalism.
If you are my fellow citizens who live in other parts of our country and are interested in seeing God’s Own Country, you are most welcome. But keep in mind that you are coming not only to God’s Own Country but to Hartal’s Own People too. We celebrate hartals. Take care, we are not like you; we are God’s Own People, and we will be happy only if we make the people like you suffer at least twice a month because we believe that all other States in India are Satan’s Own. We are God’s Own.
That is why we are killing people every alternate day and observing hartals to protest the killings. That is why we want to destroy the Western Ghats; that is why we are destroying all our rivers; that is why we are making all our cities more and more stinking ones, that is why we are bulldozing all our hills and filling all our wetlands. I think you know that of all Indian States, Kerala is the most developed, the most literate, the most what not! We are having great esteem of ourselves and consider all other people unintelligent and socially underdeveloped. If you take exception to our considering you so, we will call a hartal to protest your objection too.
(The writer’s email: firstname.lastname@example.org)