Mounds of cooked rice dumped outside the centralised midday meal kitchen at Ramdas Bhatta in Jamshedpur on Thursday. Picture by Bhola Prasad
Nine bandhs in four months and two more on the way — normal life in Ranchi has been hiccuping along since May thanks to a series of strikes called by myriad outfits over equally varied demands making students, the business community and daily wage earners the worst sufferers.
While students have been forced to stay home as schools have declared unscheduled holidays fearing backlash from bandh enforcers, colleges and university classes have been held with skeletal attendance as most students have not been able to make it due to lack of public transport.
“Schools have lost many working days due to repeated bandhs. As the syllabus has to be completed, teachers have to rush through chapters. The end result is psychological pressure on the child,” said D.R. Singh, principal of Jawahar Vidya Mandir-Shyamali.
Most schools choose to remain shut during bandhs despite being kept out of its purview by those calling the strike. For, to remain open is leaving themselves vulnerable to unprovoked attacks by activists on the street.
“Safety of students is a priority. No school management would like to take any risk,” said M.K. Sinha, principal of DAV Kapildev-Kadru.
However, some strikes, like the one called by the Congress on September 4 to protest against the deteriorating law and order situation in Ranchi, left the school managements with no option — they were asked to remain shut.
“Education of children should not suffer due to bandhs and enforcers should ensure that schools buses are not attacked. All political parties and social organisations which call bandhs should discuss this issue and unanimously decide to keep schools out of the purview of bandhs,” said Ajay Rai, general secretary of Ranchi Abhibhawak Sangh.
In a year, each school is required to conduct at least 210 days of classes. This academic session, nine days have already been lost to strikes since May. And there are still six more months to go for the session to end.
In contrast to schools, colleges and postgraduate departments of Ranchi University remain open during bandhs on the premise that the students are adults and can travel to attend classes. But, as public transport all but disappears from the roads, most students are left stranded.
“As I have a two-wheeler, I managed to come for class. But, students who depend on public transport could not,” Shivani Singh of St Xavier’s College said on Thursday.
“We have 10,000 students in different departments. On normal days, attendance is at least 70 per cent. However, on bandh days — like Thursday — only 10 per cent turn up. Teachers have to repeat lessons to clarify doubts,” said V.S. Tiwary, principal of Doranda College.
If the going is tough for students, it’s worse for the business community. According to members of the Federation of Jharkhand Chamber of Commerce and Industries (FJCCI), each bandh means losses to the tune of Rs 50 crore a day.
“This year there have been too many bandhs and we have suffered huge losses. Bandhs are no solution to any problem,” said Anchal Kinger, former president of FJCCI. The business body, however, collectively supported Thursday’s bandh.
For daily wage earners like rickshaw pullers, vendors and labourers, bandh means zero income. The city has around 4,000 rickshaws and around 1,000 vegetable vendors and a large number of small shop owners.
“On a bandh day, about 20 per cent labourers come for work. Some employers may engage labourers while other who do not want to run their establishments, may just ask them to go back. Thus, they have to return without any earning,” said Sharad Poddar, executive committee member of FJCCI.
Roadside shops owners have their own tales of woe. “I usually sell goods worth Rs 15,000 a day and make a profit of about Rs 1,000. I lose that amount on a bandh day,” said Satya Narayan Prasad, a grocery shop owner on Hazaribagh Road.