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Bandhs are an Indian disease

August 29, 2008

Words like bandh (city shutdowns), hartal, (strike by workers) are now in the English dictionary. I am not sure if gherao (surrounding a person in power to make demands) is in the dictionary, but it’s certainly in the wiki. Ordinarily we can be proud of the fact that words from an Indian language have become a part of a global language like English, but in this case, we needn’t be proud because of the nature of the words themselves.

Bandhs and hartals are particularly an Indian disease refusing to become extinct. Why extinct, they seem to be increasing in intensity. I had foolishly imagined that they were on the decline because I see few bandhs happening in Mumbai today, unlike a decade or so ago. The bandh culture is on the wane I told myself, particularly as in 1998 the Supreme court had made bandhs illegal and in 2004 had even punished the BJP and Shiv Sena (political parties) for organizing a bandh in Mumbai to protest the bomb blasts in the city.

But bandhs continue to proliferate in West Bengal and Kerala (75-80 already in Kerala this year) and at times they happen for trivial reasons (controversy over a 7th grade textbook!).

Unfortunately the term bandh is being used interchangeably with a hartal or strike. A workers’ strike or any protest should be limited to the organisation or body against whom protestors have a grievance, but a bandh affects all citizens and can last even up to two days at a time. It paralysis normal life, public transport and everyone is forced to remain indoors, causing great loss and inconvenience to the people. People can’t reach hospitals on time and urgent work is interrupted.

The bandh culture is a peculiar hodgepodge of democracy and communism. Communist regimes do not allow such nonsense, but a democracy allows freedom, a freedom misused by the communists to impose on the common people. It is ridiculous that bandhs are actually used to tom-tom a “people’s cause” completely disregarding the fact that it is the common man who suffers as public transport grinds to a halt, establishments close out of fear of violence and people dare not venture out, again due to fear. And ofcourse the country and the state loses out in a big way…money and prestige as well. As for the long-term effects, very damaging indeed.

Not that political parties care. They don’t even care that bandhs are illegal. The Supreme court has intervened however, in the recent past. A state bandh was declared in Tamil Nadu and the court rapped the DMK on the knuckles for supporting it.

The silver lining
However, people in power are speaking out. It was refreshing to hear the West Bengal Chief Minister (Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee) talk against bandhs and strikes. He said:

As the party calls for a bandh, which is of no use to us or the country, I keep mum. I won’t keep mum any more.

Other communists have talked about it. A Kerala MP A P Abdullakutty had done so too.

The MP from Kannur, the CPI(M)’s stronghold in Kerala, had said that the bandh as a protest mode had lost its edge and had only alienated people.

Despite knowing that freedom of speech is not valued in the communist cadres, and that any variant opinion, even if it comes from a senior politician, will be squashed, these statements hold a ray of hope for the future.

As for the communist party, it looks like they might force Buddha to eat his words. Not only is no one supporting him, this is what is being said:

He did not mean to say what he said. That is our feeling. He will clarify it soon,” said a senior CPM leader.

(Photograph from

Related Reading: Strike, agitate and paralyze, that’s becoming a way of life!
Gujjar violence of 2007
Violent mobs should pay
Docs in India often have to face irate mobs
Comparision of violent crime in the world
Poor people to Police ratio
Dalit violence in Maharashtra after Ambedkar’s statue damaged in Kanpur
Fake mob attack by political party

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42 Comments leave one →
  1. August 29, 2008 10:43 am

    I will be honest after the Mandal riots the only Bandhs that have happened here about that Dera row with the Sikh people. Even those were not really effective we moved around as normal and no one really seemed to have cared. So I don’t really think we have felt the pinch of these things but having been in Bengal I can tell they can be nasty, once I almost missed a train due to it until I glowered a bit at the people taking out a rally and they let me pass anyway.Your post points to something interesting that making things legal/illegal may not always work in India because people have scant respect for the law but I guess that is rather evident when you see how people drive here….The rule only seems to exist in name but it does not seem to apply.

    I have heard of this Dera row, some trouble regarding that in Mumbai too. About the law, it only applies to people who are not in power! people like us – nita

  2. August 29, 2008 11:05 am

    Public is annoyed with frequent bandhs and subsequent violence, loss of lives and damage caused to public property. In the long run, bandhs will go against the party sponsoring it.

    well, i hope so! – nita.

  3. August 29, 2008 11:11 am

    well why do people participate in it anyway? i remember during the sedhu thing,most of the people took it as a long weekend and went out of town 😛

    well, amit has the answer. either you get paid for it, or you simply want to avoid trouble! – nita.

  4. August 29, 2008 11:14 am


    Someone had either a great sense of humour or a great sense of civic duty – possibly both, but definitely with the realisation that in India, he will never face ‘writer’s block’ – so as to create this website:

    In general, citizen engagement would reduce the power of these hartals. But when day-to-day living is so difficult for ordinary people, for them not to welcome a day of respite without losing their paid-leave days would be odder.

    I like the blog’s header: Hartals – Inspired by demons, immortalized by humans, institutionalised by politicians! – nita.

  5. August 29, 2008 11:25 am

    i have said this earlier and doing it again, we Indians are not mature enough to handle democracy!

    we will mature slowly, and then we will be glad to have our democracy. – nita.

  6. August 29, 2008 11:45 am

    The problem is that people are illiterate and if you give them 100 Rs and ask them to sit on a road and shout slogans, they would do that for you. They don’t understand that they are being exploited and what they are doing is making someone’s life miserable.

    true, and the rest of just take a holiday! – nita.

  7. August 29, 2008 12:35 pm

    It’s taken a commie of great courage to tell fellow commies the hard truth. And that has happened only after the commies have felt the pressure fro the other side!

    Bandhs have mostly degenerated to naked displays of the power and arrogance of political parties and groups. They are now no more than tools to bully others into towing their line, no matter what the loss to the nation or the common man.

    it certainly takes courage to go against the party line and I just hope Buddha survives. – nita.

  8. August 29, 2008 12:43 pm

    @ Sakhi:

    “..we Indians are not mature enough to handle democracy!”

    There is no consensus on what democracy is, leave alone on ‘maturity’ and whether it is a pre-requisite for democracy. What alternative form of governance would you propose?

  9. vivekmittal permalink
    August 29, 2008 1:29 pm

    As far as i know supreme court has already banned any kind of “bandh” ..but as they say “old habits die hard”..we need more time ..
    But i see nothing wrong in strikes as this is a way to avoid exploitation of uneducated workers in an organization……and i think it’s not illegal until it involve violence…..

    vivek, political parties never follow the law. As exploitation, its going on all over the place, ironically the workers in sweat-shops and slave labour who are not part of trade unions suffer the most. – nita.

  10. August 29, 2008 1:29 pm

    Good post !!
    Thanks for the link.

    In kerala its a routine. Be it an all India Bandh, Saddam Execution, whatever happens there would be a bandh declared by a lesser known party.
    I think the attitude of people also should change, many are ready to stay a day at home, close down shops(lose business for a day) when a bandh is declared.
    May be because we fear that some stray stone might break the windshield of our hard earned vehicle.

    In kerala, the govt participates in all bandhs, (some are declared by the govt itself, I wonder whom they are protesting against) and the KSRTC (govt buses) won’t hit the roads. As a result the state would be shut down for a day.
    Like Amit said many of the meetings are organized by political parties by giving the attendees Rs100 + a quarter bottle alcohol + biriyani.

    thanks xylene. i hope you guys vote the communist party out this time. – nita.

  11. August 29, 2008 1:59 pm

    Given the sheer size of our population and the variety of people and communities, and the kind of politicians we have, we are doing rather well as a democracy.. 🙂

    I had got stuck in Kolkata once, landing there on a day of some industrial bandh. But a bandh is a bandh in Kolkata, every organization jumps in with solidarity and the whole town gets a long weekend. (They try to keep bandhs on fridays or mondays in West Bengal, and most people use the long weekend to make a short trip/ vacation.)

    So, all passengers that day were stuck in the station. It was 6-30 am when we reached and luckily a taxi fellow who was gong home to an area near our destination, took us along. Hid all our luggage including waterbottles, made one of use lie down, and instructed us to say, “We are going to xxx nursing home”, in case we were stopped. That was a tense ride we had!

    Good post. Bandhs are useless, disruptive and a great annoyance. Not to mention that they can even cause death of the people needing urgent medical help.

    good point nomad. i think there is a lot to admire in our democracy. and don’t forget our turbulent history! – nita.

  12. August 29, 2008 2:14 pm

    @ Xylene:

    Biryani? I will do hartal for biryani 😉 Esp when I wasn’t the one cooking it.

  13. August 29, 2008 2:18 pm raise pertinent questions.
    Since history is always a convenient aid, it would be wise to point out that much of the “sanctity” and “respect” given to bandhs or hartals comes from our freedom movement when shutting down the nation/state/city was perhaps seen as an ideal way to hit the colonial rulers where it hurt the most ie. the economy(besides the symbolism of the powerless subject shutting down the domain of the ruled) .

    Again it would also be interesting to speculate if such a “spectacular” way of protesting is also indicative of the distance between the layers of power and the people and thus reflects the powerlessness felt by the people.

    Either way bandhs are only symptoms. I agree that the amount of discomfort they cause is immense. I agree that they have gone far beyond what they were originally intended to be(a gesture of ultimate frusturation and protest, to be used only sparingly). However banning them is in no way a solution as that move will not bridge the disconnect between the layers of power and many sections of society.

    Banning them however, is a sure shot invitation for more regulations(ostenibly in the name of public welfar of course) which will have far reaching effects.

    @Shefaly–Thanks for the great link!! One of course has issues with bits and parts of the stuff mentioned in it..but the humour(intended or unintended) is a class act.

    that’s true, it is said that mahatma gandhi used this device. but today all states and parties are not into it as much as the communist parties.that is significant. anyway as the supreme court has already banned it in the interest of justice to the people, I support it. But strikes or protests, or peaceful marches are not illegal. Only forcing closure of the city is. – nita.

  14. August 29, 2008 3:11 pm

    When I was in Kerala (in my childhood), I used to look forward to a bandh. That was the way to get away from school, college and spend time doing something that I wanted more – like play cricket/watch tv/read a book etc. Hence, I’m reserved!

    Krish, when I was in school, we even talked of the advantages of a political leader conking off so we could get a holiday! 🙂 evil huh? – nita.

  15. August 29, 2008 3:31 pm

    I propose Bandh to ban the Bandh culture.

    🙂 – nita.

  16. Kanupriya permalink
    August 29, 2008 3:39 pm

    Good to know Kolkata’s CM viewpoint. Otherwise I think Kolkata is one of the worst hit cities as far as bandhs are concerned. I find bandhs to be the most weird way of expressing protests!

    wierd and inhuman. there are recurrent stories about how people going to hospitals are stopped. – nita.

  17. August 29, 2008 3:48 pm

    I think bandhs are taken seriously only in bengal and kerala… rest of the states continue to function as usuall.. maybe with just the govt offices closed and all…

    worst in the communist states. i doubt whether they know what communism is really about. – nita.

  18. August 29, 2008 5:47 pm

    Even a supreme court verdict could not stop morchas – the interesting bit is that when the bengal cm buddhadeb said he was against morchas – the kerala lot said something against him and maybe they even planned a morcha against his statement (xylene may know better)
    even bollywood has a song morcha hi morcha if im not mistaken and the communists may just adopt it as their slogan!

  19. August 29, 2008 5:58 pm

    /The bandh culture is a peculiar hodgepodge of democracy and communism. Communist regimes do not allow such nonsense, but a democracy allows freedom/
    u hit the bulseye
    no one could say it better…

    in hindsight things will only change if more accountability is introduced into the system and we get hire and fire laws – and useless laws like
    SICA act 1985 wherein loss making companies are left in lymbo will be shown the door, while strengthening the labour laws for unorganised labor to current standards and more importantly give people speedier justice

  20. August 29, 2008 6:26 pm

    We give opportunity for both the parties every term. So next would be congress for sure. The communists are more dangerous when they are in the opposition.
    You can move to Kerala and take part in all the political rallies. 🙂
    Its a part time job for college-goers… 😀

  21. August 29, 2008 7:41 pm

    Very impressive blog. Added you to my blog list

  22. August 29, 2008 8:03 pm

    thanks, Nita – never heard of that, learned something new again from you 🙂

  23. August 29, 2008 9:20 pm

    Bandh is useless. But some of them make use of it as a holiday and spend time doing something else. Only in case of emergency it comes back biting in their asses.

  24. August 29, 2008 9:42 pm

    Nita, I agree that bandhs, hartals, and gheraos are major inconveniences for many urban Indians. Unfortunately, many times they are simply necessary due to the lack of administrative decentralization in our country.

    Let me give you an example, the residents of the slum colony of Bhalaswa were recently evicted by the Delhi government to ‘beautify’ the city for the Commonwealth Games. Fine. But the court (and the Constitution) require that the government provide the displaced persons with proper amenities. Of course, this did not happen, with the officials demanding bribes from the ppl, even for school leaving certificates !! So the ppl got together and did many dharnas and gheraos for water, schools and power and managed to get them.

    A country of a billion people or a state of a 100 million ppl, cannot function, if to fire a corrupt police officer, one needs the approval of a PM or a CM. But the Union and the State governments dont want to decentralize, this leads to frustration with the day-to-day administration of the country, and ppl are naturally inclined to take part in these protests to highlight their grievances.

  25. Vikram permalink
    August 29, 2008 9:50 pm

    P.S: Can somebody please tell me how I can comment on wordpress and keep a link to my blog, without having to log out ??

    first log out and fill in the url. you do it once and then even if you logged in, it works. – nita.

  26. August 29, 2008 11:41 pm

    Ohh my pet peeve!! how I hate the concept of bandhs, especially of the magnitude like the ones in WB and Kerala. They cause nothing but inconvenience to common man but yet the common man hasnt been able to weed out the problem by votes. They have been made to believe xyz issues are really important to them and they should be aggressive about it whereas in reality they would be far better off without losing one day ‘s wages due to not going to work.

  27. August 30, 2008 12:20 am

    LoL …apt title for this post..
    u can call it a hobby for them..
    every now and then the opposition parties call a bandh for no reason ..
    I think these parties need to be more practical..they forget the inconveniences the public face due to this ..
    WE always find new meanings of democracy .. 😛
    result : BANdh 😀

  28. Captain Sharks permalink
    August 30, 2008 12:52 am

    “They cause nothing but inconvenience to common man but yet the common man hasnt been able to weed out the problem by votes ”

    u really think that v common people can sort this problem by VOTES ?? poltical parties r playing games at their own will,it doesnt matter whether dey r ruling,opposition or third class local parties whose leader might not be even aware about the capital of India…..then where is d best possible option to vote for ?? n for whom ?? looking at d present scenario,i cannot think such n option exists even in d hellest corner of India….
    but yes u r right,watever d issues this insane people still hav somhow made people to believe that these r important….

  29. August 30, 2008 3:52 am

    @ Nita

    I was rushing earlier but now I finally found time to leave this link here. Apt for the post, although lyrics spell a slightly different context.

    Thanks. 🙂

  30. ulag permalink
    August 30, 2008 10:29 am

    Well the communists have already made him retract/regret his statement already! Buddhadeb was taking bengal along a development path based on practicality and ground realities. He knew that he needed to attract private companies and foreign investment into the state for its development. Ironically his comrades in Delhi did just the opposite. While the communists opposed SEZ’s and land acquisitions all over the country, they were busy defending their projects in Nandigram and Singur. Goes to show how much double-speak our politicians can get involved in.

    There is a difference between bandhs and strikes as youve rightly pointed out. Noone denies the workers right to strike their work. But a bandh crippling the whole city is meaningless and is just a show of strength for different political parties. In most cases bandhs are forcefully enforced by party workers. In that sense its completely meaningless. It just amounts to holding a city to ransom by violent mobs.

  31. August 30, 2008 12:20 pm

    Bandhs are declared quite often in Delhi and NCR too, that is a different thing that sometimes people and organizations are unaware of it and things continue normally.

    But even when govt. claims that the Bandh announced by some lesser known or less powerful people will be ceased even before it happens, businesses and companies still declare holiday just by the fear of it, irrespective of what govt. bodies say(coz. they say many other things too, that aren’t enforced).

    Recently, Gujjars declared bandh and claimed their protest was peaceful. Peaceful here means they won’t harm any human etc. while they can block roads, damage railway lines and torch few buses.

    We are just the citizens of the country, but these people are the true Pat-riots. 🙂

  32. August 30, 2008 2:48 pm

    I certainly hope that one day we are really glad to have democracy!! and i also hope that the day comes as early as possible!

  33. August 30, 2008 7:51 pm

    If Mahatma Gandhi, was so successful with his Non-Cooperation by peaceful methods, why not us? Blocking the normal life in a rather big area is one thing, and trying to acheive something by conducting the bandh is totally,another. In France, for example, people (even kids) participate in rally’s and demonstrations in Paris. That is one way they use to communicate to the Government that they are not happy about certain things and it is a way to register their protest. Especially France, where public administration is wholly in the hands of the Govt. In fact, there are always the Riot Police stationed in sensitive areas, and the French love to demonstrate right in those areas! It is kinda culture in France and Govt does not suppress it.

    If we, as people, are not registering our protest against some policy which we feel is detrimental to growth, or some policy which we feel should have been introduced in our country, we are not going to have it ! Demonstrations and protests help you to register that with the Government. It is just one form. There maybe many like this. But we as citizens should collectively ensure that we keep giving feedback to the state/central policies and laws so that the Government could act on them. Even if we are initially have no hopes that the Govt will act, we ought to slowly but regularly prod the Government to act. We need to device some sort of a methodology to do this. Bandh’s and hartals are an excellent and time tested methodologies for it.

    But if we want one more holiday because of a Bandh, that’s what well get. If we want to inflict a wound on a certain section of people by halting all activity in the region, that’s what well get.

  34. August 30, 2008 10:20 pm

    I think the bandh has its roots in satyagraha. But I wonder if Gandhiji ever called bandh. He always organized satyagraha, wherein interested people protested and rest carried on with their daily life.

    I think bandh should be made illegal and destroying of public property should be punished. We had bandh in bangalore for very trivial reasons, I remember there was a bandh when actor rajkumar died.

  35. raghav permalink
    August 31, 2008 7:37 am

    I hate communists (CPM, CPI) so much even when i know in democracy every thought has a freedom. There are kinda party who don’t carry positive news at all if you watch so called ‘National News’.

    Anyways, we are talking of bandhs. Thanks, CPM, CPI and other useless parties for causing huge financial losses. Can’t they have other ways of protesting? I guess thanks to our liberal democracy that allows state bandh. Don’t we need changes in law to deal with these kind of bandhs.

  36. August 31, 2008 9:29 am

    Its such a disgusting thing… Just a couple of weeks ago, communists organized an auto strike in bangalore and threw the city in chaos… Damn! When will we learn!?

  37. August 31, 2008 1:46 pm

    Why do you think that the controversy over the text book is trivial? See these. There was no page without a mistake in the English version.
    What is wrong with textbooks in Kerala?

    Social Science textbook is a compendium of errors

    trivial reason for a bandh….however I guess that’s my view but clearly not Kerala’s view. 🙂 – nita.

  38. September 1, 2008 11:36 am

    Well, there was no bandh or hartal over the text book issue in Kerala though other forms of agitations were resorted to. KeralaViews does not support hartal as could be seen from the following and other posts on KeralaViews Weblog.

    Okay, thanks for the clarification! – nita.

  39. November 4, 2008 11:32 pm

    you must be kidding…they are national fete..

  40. Nubin permalink
    February 26, 2009 3:05 pm

    Not only CPM contributed large chunk of hartal in Kerala, even BJP, who doesn’thave single MP/MLA in this state called 32 hartal.

    But one postive change Im seeing in Kerala is that, from JUly 2008 onwards there were no statewide hartal reported. Probably this is a record by Kerala standard. (8 months without a statewide hartal).

    • vasudev permalink
      February 26, 2009 9:17 pm

      no state-wide hartal! true! the HC had banned it and that’s why!

      but didn’t you notice the district-wide hartals? the village-wide hartals? the panchayat-wide hartals? all those together amounted to more than 100 working days! naturally, being a strip of a land with two areterial roads (NH & SH), even a person-wide hartal can bring the state to a grinding halt since all vehicular/train movements have to cross some or the other affected district/village/panchayat/person…

      it is a known truth now that the mallus in kerala look forward to these hartals as they get some free holidays. and the longest ques you would find in liquor shops the day before. as well as in shops selling/renting cds. chicken/mutton/fish shops also do roaring business the evening before as the mallu stacks himself up nicely and goes home to enjoy a fully paid free holiday.

      some guys say that many of the kerala ministers have shares in ‘spirit mafias’ and the frequent hartals are to boost-up the sale of adulterated spirit!

      imagine when india is going all IT, kerala is getting all ‘spirited’ to sit back at home and enjoy.


  1. ‘Bandhs are an Indian disease’ at Blogbharti

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