Scores of Lungi clad men holding banners and chanting “Inqulab Zindabad” like it is 1947 all over again is a regular sight in Kerala. Hartal is a Gujarati word for ‘strike’ that is used by the public, to protest against unfair or unpopular government decisions. The general public is expected to remain indoors, while the organized civil disobedience takes its course.
Gandhi & Hartal
Mahatma Gandhi first used the term in his anti- British general strikes to protest the British colonial rule in India. Scores of men and women would take to the streets, protesting against the injustice of the British occupation. After many years of blood, toil and tears, the organized protests, finally helped India become a free, democratic, and independent country on 15th August 1947. We were finally free after nearly 89 years of British occupation.
‘Bandh’ literally means closed in Hindi. And that’s exactly what happens in Kerala. Public transport, closed. Shops, closed. Our beloved fish stalls, closed. Booze, closed. Government offices, closed. Schools, closed. Yes, Jack pot! While the rest of the world fears Bandh, in Kerala we celebrate it like an extra holiday. It is like an extra Sunday or special privilege for living in God’s own country.
Bandh in Kerala
Most of the Bandhs are declared by the innumerable student unions, labor unions and political parties that thrive in Kerala, for any and every reason they deem fit. It could be for pressing issues like violence caused by local politics to wars happening gazillion miles away in some random country like Iraq. Over the years, we have had so many hartals that we sometimes have no idea why we had the strike in the first place. We have come a long way from the original Gandhian, “lets march & chant Inqulab Zindabad” style of protest to our modified not so peaceful version. This includes stone pelting, unnecessary destruction of public property, and even comical antics for that 60 seconds of fame to be on the local TV news.
You can actually spot the protestors grinning sheepishly, doing last minute touch-ups on their hair and having the whole, “Look! I am on TV! :)” expression while proudly holding banners and smiling at the cute local journos interviewing them. Here is a media coverage of “Kollam Kathikal” (effigy burning) gone wrong, during one of the many protests.
The ‘damage’ caused
While it may put people forced to travel in the state during Band in utter misery, a majority of us Mallus, secretly enjoy the Bandh from the comforts of our homes, relishing good food, movies and games. The good part about Bandh is that they let us know about the ‘holiday’ way in advance, giving the enterprising Malayali time and resources to plan his free Bandh cum holiday. The average Mallu household can be seen sweeping stores clean on the eve of Bandh to stock up supplies of meat, groceries, milk, booze and movie CD s for celebrating the next day. Even wedding dates are modified to accommodate Bandhs. Who hates an extra Holiday? Besides, you can convert busy roads into your private playground.
So unless you are actually forced to travel during Bandh, whether for a medical emergency or for catching that expensive flight to gulf or are running late for writing some major exam that will not be postponed, you will do more than OK during a Bandh in Kerala. Our Bandh ridden ideologies have scared away most of our industries and entrepreneurs long ago. The communists are running short of companies and organisations to strike. Nature and local population have reclaimed industry lands, after continued strikes drove their occupants out of the state, mostly forever.
The peculiar champion in Human Development Index
In stark contrast to its poor industrial and economic status, Kerala has a highly literate, healthy, and politically active population. Ranked on top of the Human Development Index, by the UN, the state tops at literacy rate, quality of health services and consumption expenditure of people. Kerala also has a very peculiar socio-economic, and demographic makeup. The state has the highest sex ratio in the country. The stats are 1084 women for every 1000 men (as per census 2011). Kerala also has a steadily declining birth rate that is lower than the United States Of America. The coastal state also boasts of education and health care facilities at par with the developed countries of the world. With the highest literacy rate in the country, Kerala produces a substantial number of doctors, nurses and engineers among other skilled professionals every year.
The Malyali Travel Diaries
Having scared away industrial growth of any form other than education, hospitals, booze and gold with epic strikes, a majority of the Malayali working population is forced to seek employment outside Kerala. In the process, they are forever travelling to and from their work locations and Kerala. If you have plans of travelling to any place frequented by Malayalis, make your bookings in advance. Way in advance! Most of us are masters of planning and are tech-savvy.Competition for any available seats on trains, planes and any other place where we want to be is very high. A large number of us are always travelling.
And if you are travelling to Kerala, call your acquaintances in Kerala to confirm and avoid landing in Kerala on days of Bandh. You don’t want to end up with your luggage in the deserted version of God’s own country.
While the Keralites outside Kerala move on with their boring weekdays as usual, the ones still in Kerala participate in the grand Bandh celebrations. As long as you are not having a heart attack or missing a flight or an exam or running out of food on the day of the Bandh, you will have an enjoyable and happy time in Kerala. It is a time to sit back at home, catch up on sleep, eat good food, watch good movies, read good books, give your pet dog or cow a bath, do some gardening, spend quality time with family and enjoy watching the local media coverage of the Bandh on TV. While Gandhi may be shaking his head in disbelief from the skies, at the way we Mallus have redefined and reinvented his simple non-violent idea for protest, you can hear the locals at tea shop murmuring, “Adutha Hartal Eppova?” Translated, “When is the next strike?”