In 2017, there have been 19 hartals at various levels, of which nine were called for by the BJP.

Kerala is synonymous with hartals but a movement against shutdowns is gaining steam
news Protest Monday, April 24, 2017 - 18:49

Kerala is synonymous with hartals, which have almost become a way of life there. In 2017, there have been 19 hartals at various levels, of which nine were called for by the BJP.

The Confederation of Indian Industries estimates that there is a GDP loss of Rs 900 crore per day when a hartal is 100% successful.

While hartals or shutdowns used to be held for the entire state, a new trend being witnessed in protests is district-level hartals, said Congress member Raju P Nair, speaking to The News Minute. Raju Nair, who is firmly against hartals, started a campaign called ‘SayNoToHartal’ in 2010 aimed at rooting out the practice.

In March, the Piravom area in in Ernakulam district observed a hartal against police probe into the death of a young woman called Mishel Shaji. 

To tackle this trend, 'SayNoToHartal' is forming district-level committees and holding conventions to mobilise people and raise awareness, he said.

In October 2016, after sporadic violence was reported across Kerala during the state-wide hartal called for by the BJP, the organisation had decided to sue the party for the violence that resulted in damage to public property.

The group had decided to approach the High Court asking the police to register a case against BJP state president Kummanam Rajasekharan and others for hartal-related violence.

“Every party is latching on to hartals and using it as a political tool for opinion-formation without any real seriousness or follow up,” says Raju Nair.

Further with people being forced to stay indoors out of fear, whichever party organises the protest tends to project it as a success, as the people’s voice has been silenced, he adds.

The campaign has volunteers who register their vehicles with the organizers. After registration, whenever there is a hartal, the volunteers take out a vehicle rally with banners and stickers that display “Say No to hartal”.

Besides, the volunteers also help people stranded at railway stations as a result of hartals, by providing them free transport in their registered vehicles. 

For those people who have their vehicles or property damaged because of a hartal, the campaign has a team of lawyers who help them register an FIR and then fight the cases for free in court and also try getting them a compensation for the losses.  

Raju Nair says it is a long drawn battle and echoes the campaign’s mission, which is to ‘unite the public, especially the youth, by providing a common platform to eliminate this social evil (hartal) that is ruining the interests of the state’. 

During the previous UDF government’s reign, minister Ramesh Chennithala had introduced the Hartal Regulation Bill in December 2015, which was sent to a select committee for consideration but it has not moved forward since, Raju rues.

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