TODAY -

Bandh has no future, why Manipuris should stop bandh culture

Md Abdul Gaffar *

19-hours general strike called by JCILPS as part of its pro-ILPS movement :: July 07 2015
19-hours general strike called by JCILPS as part of its pro-ILPS movement on July 07 2015 :: Pix - Shankar Khangembam



Bandh comes from Hindi word meaning “closed”. It is a means to achieve certain objectives through protest by the community or certain groups that forces the general public to stay at home and not go for work.

A bandh is a powerful means of protest as it has significant impact on the local residents. It forces the government machinery to bring a short-term solution with the bandh callers in condensing of the situation. By calling a bandh, citizens are prevented from communications, traders are prevented from carrying on their business activities, and daily labourers are prevented from earning wages and other business establishments.

It leads to losing huge economy of the country or the state. Those citizens who violate bandh face the wrath of terror. The organizers of the bandh also indulge in unnecessary acts of vandalism like destruction of government and private property and vehicles, stoning and clashes between the bandh organizers and the police and can be responsible for fatalities. At the same time, a blockade is an attempt to cut off food supplies, communications from a particular area by force either in part or in totality.

An economic blockade is being used as a tool by various groups and instantly formed socio-political organizations for their personal gains.

Bandhs, general strikes and blockades have become a cottage industry for Manipur. It has been victimized us either directly or indirectly.

In Manipur, bandhs are generally called by sundry socio-political organizations like the Joint Action Committees (JAC), which mainly formed to get a particular demand from the government. Besides, various leading organizations having connections with insurgent groups are also known to give bandh calls.

Bandh calls are generally made to protest against the inaction/indifference of government authorities towards a particular public (or a section of public) grievance. Such call is supported by volunteers who, more often than not, are educated yet unemployed youth. This often leads to mindless violence, causalities and damage to public and private property.

Ironically, these protests which are meant to be peaceful often turn violent and have far-reaching consequences in the people’s day-to-day lives and in the officials’ discharge of its duty.

The bandh callers feel that this is the only way to make the government listen to them. Meiteis and Muslims who inhabit the valley region are the worst sufferers of bandh. It has restricted our fundamental rights Articles 19 and 21 under the Constitution of India. The bandh has diverted issues of development like health, nutrition, quality of foods, pollution, town planning and the poor governance in the state. They feel that organizing bandhs is the best means to get the government’s attention.

The frequent bandhs and blockades expose the failure of the government of Manipur which has been relying on corruption and faulty policies. Calling of bandh brings the attention of the government and sort out the issue or strikes an agreement on certain points with the aggrieved party.

Because of such ad-hoc response of the government, bandhs and blockades are called for any issues in the state. To this end, the government prevents people from debating on its policies before implementing them. This ill-policy has been the main reasons for the loss of huge economy of the state and remaining as a backward state.

This quick-fix solution has paralyzed the state. Whenever the civil society organizations get a chance to protest, they mostly fix a bandh, in some case, an indefinite bandh. It has become such a common/popular method of dissent that a boy killing his girlfriend calls a state-wide bandh; a case of suicide in another community’s area results in a bandh; civilians kidnapped or killed by the military or by militants is also a reason for bandh. Considering this as a quick-fix method of demanding, the government is also busy to treat this immediate symptom, not the actual cause.

According to a report by the Poknapham News Service, bandh/blockade have made to loss Manipur’s economy Rs 4,970 crore till date if we calculate the loss at Rs 35 crore per day. Moreover, promoting black market and price hike such as petrol price to Rs 200 and LPG to Rs 1,200 to 1,500 per cylinder is agonizing. This economic loss suffered by a backward state like Manipur is staggering and the bandh-induced environment also severely impacted its already fragile work culture.

Frequent bandhs is the reason for weak economy of the state and the growing unemployment and hamper industrial progress of the state. Studies are affected the students of various schools and colleges get primarily affected by these bandh or strike. It has been significantly affected the daily laborers and workers who are mostly Manipuris. This process has facilitated the gap between the rich and poor in the state. Patients get affected and many die because of the bandh/blockade.

Bandhs have become widespread because it involves minimum effort on the part of the caller and secondly and more importantly, it elicits immediate response from a large section of the people delighted at the prospects of a paid holiday. By bringing everything to a total standstill, bandhs have a way of stopping all productive activities, affecting everyone in the process—from the daily wage earner to the big thikadars (contractors), from the private concerns to the Government, and of course the student.

The recent announcement by the Manipur Government to end this pervasive bandh/blockade culture is a welcome step. The state government to decide to hold the bandh callers liable for losses incurred to the exchequer on account of the bandh. Leaders of any party or organisation behind any bandh must be booked and prosecuted as per law.

Then, it has to be ensured that there is no disruption of transport and trade and business in the event of a bandh. Apart from government intervention, the role of the people will matter most when it comes to defying a bandh. It has become a habit with the people to support a bandh, willingly or otherwise, which in turn has perpetuated this vicious trend. The time has come for putting up stiff resistance against bandhs.

We will have noticed that resistance is alien to a society marinated in the sauce of comfort and indulgence. The masses will protest because their stomachs push the agenda, not their heads. But the mass need leadership of a different kind. They have seen enough of self-styled leaders who soon metamorphose into self-serving politicians.

Is it possible to find in Manipur a leader who would not ask, “What’s in it for me?” On the contrary we have leaders who are wont to say, “What’s mine is mine, but what’s yours is also mine.” This is our predicament today.

There are various courts orders that can be an incentive for the public and the government machinery to stop this irrational restraint sought to be imposed on them by some self-proclaimed leaders. We can recall here that 1997 Kerala High Court’s ruling that the bandhs as “illegal and unconstitutional”.

Even the court restricted demonstrations and processions on public roads. It was of the view to “exercise of a right of protest should not infract the fundamental right of another citizen who is equally entitled to exercise his rights.” It is of the view that “A bandh call implied threat to life and property of a citizen.”

The Supreme Court of India (SC) also upheld the Kerala High Court ruling that any sort of hooliganism in the name of bandh should be stopped. In 2004, the SC fined two political parties, BJP and Shiv Sena for organizing bandh in Mumbai as a protest against bomb blasts in the city.

The Guwahati High Court also declared all bandhs in Assam and Meghalaya as illegal. The Court ruled that bandhs violate the fundamental rights of the citizens and directed the Governments of Assam and Meghalaya to take steps to ensure that no further infringement of the fundamental rights of people should happen henceforth. The Government of Meghalaya and Assam happily endorsed the High Court ruling. Even they went step further and cited an anachronistic order way back in 1953 to say that even publicizing a bandh call is illegal.

In September 2015, West Bengal Chief Minister and Trinamool Congress supremo Mamata Banerjee said that the bandh has no future and should be stopped though she supports the cause of working class movements.

Banning bandh will of course, encroach certain parts of fundamental right to express protest but it would certainly cure the ills born of the misuse of a legitimate democratic weapon. In a democratic set up, everyone has the right to express their views and vocalize their problems as long as it does not lead to infringement of law.

In a number of developed countries including the US and France, bandh is banned. It is quite regrettable that the some vested interest groups in Manipur abuse the democratic rights of the people by calling these bandhs and strikes which often cause a roadblock to the economic development of the state. People can’t go to work, students are unable to go to school and examinations get postponed.

The backbone of the economy is affected us badly. Is this the thing we looked for a progressive Manipur, certainly not! There is no logic for calling these bandhs and strikes when so much hardship is caused to the common people. It is the common people who bear the brunt of these so-called machinations of public welfare. We should remember that only sensible discussions and talks can bring us to a feasible solution and these talks should serve the interest of the common people holistically.

A bandh might have achieved some short-term goals by affecting personal and public life in Manipur but it would never achieve our long-term goals. We need to think of a new form of protest like gheraoing in the concerned offices and ministries.

The time has come for putting up stiff public resistance against bandhs imposed on the common people by the tribe of some self-proclaimed patriots. Even when the issues behind bandhs are genuine and justified, there is no dearth of means to register one’s protests in a manner that is both effective and not detrimental to public interest.


* Md Abdul Gaffar wrote this article for The Sangai Express
The writer can be reached at ab4ghaffar(AT)gmail(DOT)com
This article was posted on June 20, 2016.


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