To force a nationwide shutdown is simply illegal

The right to protest cannot override the rights of those who wish to work, or need to go to hospital, or sit exams

  • Published 10.01.19, 8:57 AM
  • Updated 10.01.19, 8:57 AM
  • 2 mins read
Union members display banners and flags, and stop a train during a protest in Bhubaneswar on Wednesday, January 9, on the second day of 48-hour nationwide general strike called by the central trade unions PTI

Protest is undoubtedly a democratic right. And collective protest is a means of communicating people’s objections and demands to the elected government. But democracy is for everybody. The right to protest in an organized manner cannot override the rights of those who wish to go to work instead, or need to go to hospital, or sit examinations. The two-day nationwide bandh called by 10 central trade unions against the anti-worker and anti-trade policies of the Bharatiya Janata Party-led Central government seemed aimed at bringing life to a standstill, with its support from farmers’ organizations under the Left peasant wings and independent federal unions of dock workers, bank and insurance employees, telecommunications workers and, in some states, transport workers. The 12-point charter of demands that the protesters have formulated, they say, springs from the desire to revive economic growth and restore rights to workers. The irony of such protest, presumably in the cause of the people, is that it inevitably infringes on people’s rights, through coercion to join or remain inactive, disruption of normal business and economic loss, implicit and explicit violence and destruction of property. This time, too, disruptions have occurred. Examinations in certain states were postponed and schools closed in others, apart from movement of citizens by train and bus being delayed by blockades and threats in some places. It is precisely occurrences like these that the many rulings of high courts and the Supreme Court object to, emphasizing that no bandh can stop people from going about their business. To force such a shutdown is simply illegal.

The paradox is that whatever the merit or otherwise of the cause taken up by the organizers of the bandh, that is undermined by the politicking generated by the use of a controversial instrument. In West Bengal, the chief minister’s no-bandh policy has led to the anti-BJP position of the Trinamul Congress being questioned by the Left and other parties which support the bandh. Yet the administration cannot be faulted for insisting that all government employees be at work during the days of the bandh. Distinguishing between the merits of a cause and the means of expression is not something Indian political parties do, for that means evolving other means of registering protest. With the vote as their only goal, they have no time to think of these things.

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