Saturday, July 5, 2008

The importance of hartal as non-violent, eco friendly form of protest

I LIKED the accompanying cartoon which shows Kerala’s home minister cum tourism promotion minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan trying to woo tourists to our home state with a hartal special package.

The humour is accurate and hard hitting because in the present circumstances what an home minister who has, anyway, failed in his duty of maintaining law and order can do but to try and bring some result at least in his other charge, tourism?

So you see the minister running after the tourists like porters in most of our railway stations and bus stations, soliciting work.

The thing is that hartals have become a really marketable commodity in Kerala. Just like an archaic form of communism, which deifies characters like Joseph Stalin who has been abandoned even in his home turf, Kerala also keeps up this long abandoned method of protest which Gandhi called a hartal.

Last week, the state’s capital city had two hartals in a week and the other districts one, two or more according to the convenience and whims and fancies of local politicians. Recently I came across a report which said that in a normal year the state observes as many as a hundred or more hartals, based on issues ranging from national, international, local, regional, religious, political, parochial, civic, communal, etc. Hartals come in various sizes and packages, like state wide, district wise, pachachyat only and the durations vary from 12 hours, 24 hours, 48 hours, etc. So you have the freedom to pick and choose as per your requirements, tastes and paying capacity.

And what is more, you don’t come across this unique style of protest anywhere else in the world. Coming to think of it, it is the most comfortable, eco friendly and post-modern technique though it was originally thought up by Gandhi as a form of protest against the British rule.

It is comfortable because hartal means an enforced holiday, to be enjoyed with friends or family; it is eco friendly because vehicles are off the roads and hence no pollution, and it is post-modern because in a modern world of violent forms of protest you see a totally harmless way to protest being home and enjoying a peg or two turning your back against the world outside. Even Henry David Thoreau would have approved.

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