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Hartal Hartal (also hartaal) (Bengali: ; Hindi: ; Urdu: ) is a term in many Indian languages for strike action, used

ed often during the Indian Independence Movement. It is mass protest often involving a total shutdown of workplaces, offices, shops, courts of law as a form of civil disobedience. In addition to being a general strike, it involves the voluntary closing of schools and places of business. It is a mode of appealing to the sympathies of a government to change an unpopular or unacceptable decision.[1] Hartal was originally a Gujarati expression signifying the closing down of shops and warehouses with the object of realising a demand. MK Gandhi (Father of the Indian Nation), who hailed from Gujarat, organised a series of anti-British general strikes which he called hartals, thereby institutionalizing it. The contemporary origins of such a form of public protest dates back to the British colonial rule in India. Repressive actions infringing on human rights by the colonial British Government and princely states against countrywide peaceful movement for ending British rule in India often triggered such localised public protest. After the British conceded independence to India on 15 August 1947, Hartals in free India were often observed mostly as a mark of public sorrow to mourn the demise of public men and great leaders. It is also observed to mourn the deaths as a consequence of calamities, man-made or natural, that leave many people dead and injured. In Pakistan and Bangladesh a hartal is a recognised political method for articulating any political demand.[citation needed] In Sri Lanka, it is often used to refer specifically to the 1953 hartal of Ceylon. Hartals are still common in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and in northern and eastern Sri Lanka. In Malaysia, the word "hartal" was used to refer to various general strikes in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, such as the All-Malaya hartal of 1947 and the Penang hartal of 1967. The word hartal in India is also used in humorous sense to mean abstaining from work. Another variant which is common in Hindi-speaking regions is the bhukh hartal which translates as hunger strike. The Kerala state treasury has suffered loss of thousands of millions of rupees thanks to the state staging over 100 hartals annually in recent times. A record total of 223 hartals were observed in 2006, resulting in a revenue loss of over Rs 2000 crore.

Hartal and democracy Hartal certainly affects functioning of an economy. Used as a tool of expressing dissent, general strike is considered as a democratic means although it has disruptive contents. And when all avenues of discussions to solve political issues are closed, opposition

parties find no other alternative but to resort to hartals. And an alternative to hartal has a very dangerous ramification. If constitutional politics is not allowed overground, there is every possibility that dissenters will choose underground to carry out their activities. In that case, the ruling party has to bear all the consequences of such political activities underground where they may join hands with outlawed operatives. We certainly share the agonies of the members of business communities over hartal but then could they suggest any other alternative to it? Would they relish pitched crackdown on any move of democratic forces to come to the streets in protest? We have seen in photos how the headquarters of the major opposition BNP in Dhaka was seen sieged by arms-wielding cops. We even saw women cops having a nap inside that office ! The sight might please the ruling quarters but would surely alienate further the opposition from the ruling quarters, making political reconciliation a day-dream. The use of mobile courts, usually set up to nab hoarders and dishonest businessmen engaged in adulteration and use of dangerous chemicals in fruit ripening, in hunting down the political activists has even triggered grave concern among human rights bodies. Several jurists have termed the action as extra-constitutional. At a time when the ruling party leaders are never tired of expressing their firm resolve to uphold rule of law (as they wont budge an inch from what the higher courts have decreed in matters that go in their favour), mobile courts sending hundreds of political non-conformists to jails, simply makes a mockery of what they publicly preach. We hope, sanity returns to the polity. And the main task in this regard lies with the Awami League as it is in power. And let it not forget that the indiscriminate repression of political opposition will sow the seeds of vengeance among nearly 40 per cent voters who had cast their ballots in favour of BNP and against the League. What is funny is the fact that we are yet to get full verdict of the Supreme Court but the ruling quarters have launched a full-scale war on the opposition in its campaign against the caretaker government which they had fought for by resorting to means that the Awami League too would now dub as sedition. Would it allow BNP and its allies to construct a Janatar Manch in front of the Press Club? Does Hartal Deliver in Democracy? November 28, 2010 By Sazid Khan The main opposition party BNP has once again called upon a hartal, this time on 30th November. The leaders of this respected party are claiming that this strike is meant to ensure basic human rights for the people of Bangladesh. But such a claim is clearly a smoke screen for BNPs protest against the government for snapping away the residence of Begum Khaleda Zia. BNPs first hartal for this reason was observed right after Begum Zia was forced to leave her cantonment house. That brought great suffering to the those who were left home-bound instead of going to their kith and kin to celebrate Eid. After 2 weeks the opposition party has announced a second hartal for this very personal issue and the third one in total after AL took power.

Hartal is used as the last resort by opposition parties throughout the globe, when all other ways to get their demands fail. Although the economic and social consequences of such drastic measures are debated in national and local news media and at public forums with monotonous regularity, opposition politicians claim they have no alternative but to recourse to fight the intransigence and deaf ear of the party in power. This story has become a common scenario for both the parties. Hartal is not simply an inconvenience and a nuisance, it is tantamount to a call for an economic boycott of our own goods and services by our own politicians during the period hartals are in effect. In stronger words, one may regard the calls for hartals as an act of constitutionally sanctioned economic terrorism. Why should we not regard the call for a hartal an act of economic terrorism when the citizens of a free country (buyers, sellers, shop-owners, factory workers, business executives, transportation workers, students, and academic institutions, etc.) are forced to stay out of their normal and routine activities for fear of retribution and physical harm? Reluctant shop-keepers and innocent bystanders lose properties and many even get killed by hartal-enforcing hooligans. If we analyze the history of Bangladesh we will see that hartals are called by major political parties when they lose their grip on positions of power. Once an opportunity opens up with the offering of a new government contract, or some private entrepreneur taking an initiative for major investment, the ministers and the entire government machinery including the lending bank officials line up to get a share of what can be grabbed from the project. These are the same politicians who get involved in hartals and lockouts when they switch from a position of power to one of powerlessness. But the question is: can hartal deliver in democracy of Bangladesh? Political protests, open political dialogue and debate are the fundamental rights of citizens of a free society. But how can politicians promise citizens a better economic future if their acts themselves are directed towards destroying the economic fabric and infrastructure of the country they want to rule? Of course, the blame for loss of output and welfare due to recurrent calls for hartals rests equally on both the major political parties. Both the leading parties have kept the National Parliament inactive, which is the highest house of this country for political dialogue. But when the opposition party always boycotts parliamentary sessions, the government can take any decision at its sweet will. And as a consequence, the opposition bench calls upon hartal out of nowhere. UNDP report on the economic loss due to hartals claims the loss of 3 to 4 percent of annual GDP, apparently causing discomfort in some circles. Leaving aside any contentions about the precise measure of the loss of economic output and the magnitude of the parameter reflecting the negative effects of hartals, one must recognize that the GDP does not provide an accurate measure of the welfare of the people. The GDP measure does not reflect the welfare loss brought about by the inconveniences, hardships and anxieties the citizens have to withstand during the periods of hartals and thereafter. The GDP loss would be further aggravated when one

considers the measure of discouragement for foreign investments, potential loss exports and imports due to delays in productions and distribution. Hartals and the concomitant loss of output and welfare may seem as being a short-term phenomenon by the hartal-callers. Political instability is probably the most important discouraging factor for foreign investment and capital inflow. Political instability not only drives away foreign investment, it discourages domestic investors and encourages capital outflow. In a capitalist and free market economy, sources of funds for business investment and expansion depend on the strength and efficiency of its financial market. Unfortunately, even after 39 years of its existence as an independent country, the financial market in Bangladesh is still in a primitive state. Because of recurrent hartals and rampant corruption, public distrust in corporate accounting and finance, business conditions are not congenial to stock market activities. Profitability of businesses is already cut by bribes to government ministers and officials even before factories are built and operational. If businesses are not profitable and the factors that foster economic growth are hindered by hartals, lockouts and corruption, the financial market will remain ineffective to generate sources of funds for business expansion and cease to function efficiently. Thus, hartals have long-term political and bleak economic implications. The most immediate effects of hartals are loss of many daily essentials worth millions of taka which are perishable unless refrigerated or cold-stored. A small fisherman whose catches are for daily sales, a small farmer whose produce, such as vegetables and dairy products, are ready to be traded for purchase of his daily essentials cannot afford to lose their sales. The next day when the hartal is called off, there is bound to be shortage of these daily necessities. The public rushes to buy whatever they can get, driving prices up. High prices do not revert back in days to come and the result is an economy-wide inflationary pressure. Day laborers lose their wages and are thrown into uncertainty about post-hartal employment. Loss of work and income throws them into further financial ruin and poverty. If hartals bring misery to the public, how can such tactics gain widespread public support for political and economic reform? Democracy provides the forum for reasoned and thoughtful political dialogue and public discourse. Resorting to violent means such as damaging and burning private and public properties during hartals to voice dissatisfaction against the policies of the party in power is becoming increasingly common and the citizens have already started showing their annoyance and non-compliance. Hartal is a political tool to be used only when everything else fails and the issues raised are popular public concerns and demands. If the objective for calling hartals is to make the party in power unpopular and dysfunctional, then such calls and political protests are better motivated by those issues the citizens are struggling with on a daily and hourly basis. Some of these issues are corruption, health care, money laundering, politicians family members investing and transferring money to foreign countries, deteriorating law and order situations, lack of clean and safe drinking water, road side city garbage disposal, and shortage of electricity, etc.

Bringing remedies and reforms to these issues will improve ordinary citizens life and living and at the same time awaken the voters to the lack of concern of the party in power. Issues concerning political reforms, law and parliamentary affairs must at first be debated on the floor of the parliament. The party in power must allow open and timely forum for the opposition parties to voice their opinions and arguments. Hartals and protests may be warranted when the opposition is denied such a forum. Democratically elected politicians in power are not obliged to listen to the voices on the streets but to the voters who elect them. Neither the Awami League (AL) nor the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (BNP) is going anywhere in our national politics. Personal, mutual dislikes between the leaders of the two parties and the acrimonious atmosphere they have created among the politicians of the country seem to have reached an irretrievable point. The politics of personal destruction and dislikes has made the democratic process blatantly farcical and Bangladesh has become an object of jokes and ridicules in late night comedy shows on Western television. It is well past the time that they attempt to reconcile and work towards harmonious coexistence for the greater cause of the people. The time to think about the socio-economic environment of Bangladesh has come. So, why not observe a hartal against corruption and hartal itself?