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Siddharth Mohan Nair | The News Minute | September 7, 2014 | 11.39 am IST Kerala, God’s own country, is famous for its greenery, beaches, arts and toddy. However, over the past few years it has earned a dubious distinction of a state that loves to protest; hartals, to be precise. From 2005 to 2012 the state witnessed 363 hartals with the year 2006 alone contributing 223 to the tally. According to the estimates of the Kerala chapter of the Confederation of Indian Industries (CII), ‘the loss to exchequer on account of duties and taxes will be approximately Rs 200 crores’ per day.   But, what causes much consternation is the fact that every hartal that is declared in the state goes on to become a success. The success is as a result of the people’s submission to the call of that organization, either in support of the cause or in fear.  In Kerala’s case, given that those who declare the hartal resort to violence and attack such persons who defy it, one can quite well come to the conclusion that people submit to hartals out of fear. This fear has been capitalized by socio-political organizations across the board to resort to this method and bring life in the state to a standstill on such matters that they feel are important. There is no space for individual thought. Even if people consider the cause not worth a hartal, they have to submit to the organization’s call lest they succumb to the muscle power of the members of that organization. The helplessness of the people has slowly, and partly, been converted. Keralites have come to the conclusion that there is little that they can do about this. “Then, why crib? Let’s enjoy!” has been the attitude. Hartal has become a new day off from work. Keralites celebrate this by sitting at home watching TV. The day before the day of hartal, meat and liquour sales in the state increase exponentially.  The Managing Director of the Kerala State Beverages Corporation says that ‘on an average, we sell Rs 12 crore worth liquor a day. But if it's a hartal, the sale goes up by at least Rs 3 crore more the day before.’  This attitude needs change. The state needs to get rid of hartals, some organizations strongly feel. Among these campaigns, in the forefront is one named ‘Say No to Hartal.’ Founded by Raju P. Nair of Ernakulam in July 2010, the campaign as its website reads, aims to ‘unite the public especially the youth in a platform to eliminate this social evil (hartal) which is ruining the interests of the state.’  In an interview to The News Minute, Raju P Nair talked in detail about the campaign, how it emerged, its activities and a lot more.  Kerala was the first state in the country whose High Court banned ‘bandhs’ in 1997 when the Communist Party of India (Marxist) party was in power. The government filed a Special Leave Petition in the Supreme Court to get the High Court’s order reversed, which the apex court rejected. It was then that political parties began holding hartals instead of bandhs. The effect of hartal, which is actually supposed to be voluntary, was changed, and was made same as that of a bandh. In 2000, the Kerala High Court declared as unconstitutional those hartals which were enforced by force or intimidation. However, despite all these legal bans, bandhs, or hartals, continue to be in vogue.  It was during this state of affairs when political parties made continuous maneuvers to overcome court judgments that Raju Nair thought of initiating a campaign. He and some of his friends thought that a non-violent protest against these forced-hartals was imperative. He claims that the campaign ‘received full support and blessings from Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer,’ a retired judge of the Supreme Court.  The campaign, he says, has volunteers who ‘have to register their vehicles with the organizers of the campaign.’ After registration whenever there is a hartal the volunteers ‘take out a vehicle rally with banners and stickers that display “Say NO to hartal” to resist it.’ He adds that ‘whenever the cause is justifiable the volunteers also display banners in support of the cause.’ He is however, of the opinion that whatever the cause be ‘hartal is not a correct solution.’  He also says that ‘volunteers are made to vow that their political inclinations will not affect their campaign.’ Raju Nair himself is the Chairman of the IT Cell of the Kerala Congress. He says that even if the hartal is declared by his party, he defies it and participates in the vehicle rally.  The activities of the campaign do not stop here. There is every possibility that members of the political party that declared the hartal might break the glasses of the vehicles of the campaign volunteers. However, until now this has not happened. If at all it does, he says that all the volunteers would jointly put in money to make up the damage.  Another major activity of the campaign is to help people stranded in railway stations because of lack of vehicles at the roads. Volunteers provide free transport to them in the registered vehicles. Volunteers also transport people who require medical aid to the nearby hospitals. For those people who have their vehicles or property damaged during the day of hartal, the campaign has a team of lawyers who help them register a FIR and then fight the cases for free in court and try getting them a compensation for the losses.  He says that he is not against strikes. ‘Even what I am doing is a strike, but, I am not hindering others’ freedom.’ What we witness today are forced strikes, he sighs. He explained his stand by citing a recent example. On 2 September, the day RSS had called for a state-wide hartal, some members deflated the tyres of the vehicle of a lady who had come out on the road. He asks those who committed this act whether it was that lady who murdered the RSS member? What crime did she commit, he asks. It is this sort of interference into others’ freedom that he is against, he says.  ‘Every hartal causes a direct loss of Rs. 1000 crore and an indirect loss of Rs. 2000 crore to the state exchequer,’ he claims. At this instance, he quotes Justice Koshy, the Chairman of Kerala Human Rights Commission, in saying that those people who declare hartals are indulging in crimes against the nation. The campaign also conducts awareness programmes and discussions by inviting all political parties and social workers. He says that many politicians had assured that they would compel their parties to give up this practice but nothing has changed in the ground. He is also of the considered opinion that ‘no party in the state can today make a hartal successful if is against the wishes of the people.’ He adds that ‘no party has such a strong organization’ to make it possible. But, he reflects why hartals are successful in the state. He says that ‘there are a handful of goondas who indulge in open violence and thus terrorize the people.’ It is by these few men that the entire state comes to a stand-still. He says that the top leadership of every party must give out strict guidelines to its members that none should participate in such acts.  To the question on how this campaign that he leads can make a change in Kerala, where people have accepted hartals as a way of life, though against their will, he reacts strongly. He says that ‘Kerala is a land where political parties declared a hartal when Saddam Hussain was executed and when land allocated for the Amarnath temple was withdrawn.’ He adds with a sense of disgust that when the land allocation was withdrawn ‘even in J&K there wasn’t a hartal declared but here in our state we had one.’  As a solution he says that the state should come out strongly against this. He complains that ‘by closing down offices and postponing examinations on the days of hartal, the state is indirectly supporting this unconstitutional method’. However, his larger grief is that ‘people are submitting themselves to such hartals and are confining themselves to their houses during these days.’ He says that the practice can be stopped only when people ‘come out in the open’ defying the hartal. He says that he was depressed when the RSS declared a hartal on 2 September. He and his team were preparing to celebrate a ‘Year Free of Hartals’ on 18 November. The last hartal that Kerala witnessed was on 17 November 2013 which was declared in opposition to the Kasturirangan report. With the recently declared RSS hartal, his hopes to celebrate the just passed year as one devoid of hartals were shattered, he says. But, Raju P Nair is not one who will lose hope. He says that he will give his all in this campaign to ‘instill courage and a sense of social responsibility in the people to stand up against this menace.’ He says that he was depressed when the RSS declared a hartal on 2 September. He and his team were preparing to celebrate a ‘Year Free of Hartals’ on 18 November. The last hartal that Kerala witnessed was on 17 November 2013 which was declared in opposition to the Kasturirangan report. With the recent declared RSS hartal, his hopes to celebrate the just passed year as one devoid of hartals were shattered, he says. But, Raju P Nair is not one who will lose hope. He says that he will give his all in this campaign to ‘instill courage and a sense of social responsibility in the people to stand up against this menace.’

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