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Technically, a forced bandh is illegal—people should not be forced to participate in them, according to a 1997 verdict by the Kerala high court.  Photo: PTI
Technically, a forced bandh is illegal—people should not be forced to participate in them, according to a 1997 verdict by the Kerala high court. Photo: PTI

The phenomenon of bandhs

The word itself, one that has been bandied about in Karnataka most of this month, is a Sanskrit term that means closure or shutdown

Bengaluru: It is a familiar enough situation for any child who has grown up in India—that unexpected holiday in the middle of a school-week due to a bandh.

The word itself, one that has been bandied about in Karnataka most of this month, is a Sanskrit term that means closure or shutdown.

The protest tool, which inevitably results in an economic shutdown punctuated often by random acts of violence, has its origins in the Independence Movement during which hartals and bandhs were used to wage war against imperial rule.

However, these tools, while effective in a totalitarian regime, are subverted in a democracy.

Technically, a forced bandh is illegal—people should not be forced to participate in them, according to a 1997 verdict by the Kerala high court.

While political parties and trade unions indeed have the right to protest, citizens have an equal right to not support the action as organizers of bandhs often “trample upon the rights of citizens protected by the Constitution".

Also Read: Tamil Nadu bandh tomorrow: What will remain closed

“Organizers of bandhs are to compensate the Government, the public and private citizens for losses due to destruction during the bandh," the court stated.

The Supreme Court also upheld the order banning bandhs later that year.

Bandh organizers eventually started calling mass strikes hartals instead. The Supreme Court in 2004 stated that inconvenience could not be caused in the name of hartal either.

Yet the phenomenon has continued unabated, especially in states with a strong Left presence like Kerala and West Bengal.

“Whenever there is an unusually large queue before liquor outlets in Kerala, it can be safely guessed that the next day is either an official dry day or a shutdown strike has been announced," observes an October 2015 piece in Scroll, adding that the state witnesses around 100 strikes a year, causing a loss of 900 crore to the state.

Similarly, the recent violence in Karnataka tied to the Cauvery water sharing issue have sullied the state’s image considerably. Its capital Bengaluru, called the Silicon Valley of India, is estimated to have suffered a loss of 22,000-25,000 crore, according to trade body Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (Assocham).

“While we are selling ourselves to be the fastest growing economy of the world, we cannot afford the incidents which are taking place in metropolitan cities," Assocham said.

A “successful" state-wide hartal on a day causes a loss of 900 crore to the state, according to estimates by the Confederation of Indian Industry, another trade organisation.

Also Read: Cauvery dispute: How did violent protests appear and disappear in Bengaluru?

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