It seems like people in Kerala have finally had enough of hartals. Over the years, hartals have become almost a routine, almost monthly occurrence in Kerala, spawning weary jokes and angry reactions, in equal measure. But it seems like the traders and businessmen in Kerala are putting down the shutters on needless, hasty, damaging and sometimes-violent hartals.
In a meeting held in Kozhikode on Thursday, the Vyapari Vyavasayi Ekopana Samithi (VVES), a Kerala-wide union of traders and merchants, has decided not to observe hasty or unnecessary hartals called by political parties. At a press conference, they also announced that the union will observe 2019 as a hartal-opposed year.
EB Biju, a shop owner and member of the VVES, told TNM, “We have decided against observing needless hartals, and will not cooperate with them any more. In today’s society in Kerala, shops and vehicles are facing the brunt of frequent hartals the most. When political parties call these hartals, especially at the last minute, shops, particularly those selling perishable goods, face losses that come up to crores of rupees.”
While he says that they have been facing these problems for a long time, he points to two recent events that reflect the nature of the problem. “Recently, in Pathanamthitta, the police beat and killed an individual. A hartal was called at 12 am. If you declare a hartal at 12 am, after shop owners have made preparations for the following day, you see crores of goods going to waste. Again, recently in Thiruvananthapuram, a man killed himself, and the hartal was announced at 5 pm. These kinds of unannounced hartals affect shopkeepers badly.
Naseerudhin, President of the VVES, describes the magnitude of the problem, by pointing out that of the 365 days in 2018, 107 of them were declared hartals. He reiterates that the organisation is neither against planned hartals that are announced well in advance, nor against hartals called for relevant or necessary reasons.
When asked what would happen in the eventuality of violence breaking out if shops or establishments did not adhere to a hartal, Biju says that the onus is on the state police to protect those shops. If there is damage to property or goods, the union will also contribute towards providing help for it.
The organisation hopes that its decision will spark a social change and political change in the state, and also feels the time is right to do so.
“Recently, even Minister EP Jayaraj hinted that parties should not keep declaring hartals. Hartals are not the only means of political protest. Hartals should be called at the last stage, only if all other means of protest have been explored and have failed. Right now, people think that no matter what happens, declaring hartals and closing shops is the only way to bring that issue to light. That needs to change.”
A final meeting of the VVES, which will be held in Thrissur on Januray 1, the organisation will finalise the finer details of the plan, and announce its official kick-off.