Much has been said about the negative effects of hartals, and it is high time somebody stood up in their defence — even if it is from a reluctant supporter.
Several good things come with every hartal. Let us look at the eco-friendly nature of the hartal. That day about 99 per cent of vehicles are off our roads, and the results are breathtaking. There is a significant drop in air and noise pollution levels and all roads become a jogger’s or health walker’s paradise. Even kids can be seen playing cricket on some of them, making up for the general shortage of playgrounds. One can hear the birdsong while inhaling crisp, carbon monoxide-free air.
Then, all that foreign exchange savings: we all know a substantial part of it is spent to buy crude oil from abroad. A day’s hartal translates into significant savings. On normal days, so much of petrol and diesel is burnt in merely idling at traffic signals, or in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
There are educational and academic aspects. The sight of sleepy eyed young children in uncomfortable neck-ties and nylon socks (despite the humid weather) being dragged to school in buses or overloaded autorickshaws is common. They then undergo gruelling hours in cramped classrooms where the stress is on information overload and not on creative thinking. Most students welcome hartals as god-given holidays.
See how hartals unify the family. For most of the working population, only Sundays are left to relax or be at home. But then most of it gets spent in going to church or temple and attending to household chores that have been kept pending. On hartal days, breakfast, lunch and dinner happen as a family on the dining table and there is no danger of friends or distant relatives trespassing at odd times. You can now watch that movie that you never got time to see.
As all fast food or junk food restaurants are closed, families will have no option but to get back to the basics, and children can enjoy some nutritious home-made food.