AS long as participating in hartals was voluntary, which it was during the anti-colonial, anti-Pakistani and anti-autocracy struggle days, we could accept it as a means of expressing no-confidence or non-cooperation against the government of the day. But now-a-days hartal is forced upon the citizens and is imposed through coercion and by terrorizing the people. We regularly see cars and buses being burnt on the evenings before and during hartals whose sole purpose is to drive fear among the citizens. This cannot be a part of democratic politics.
Therefore we appeal to the High Court to examine, suo moto, whether it can come to the aid of the citizens in protecting their fundamental rights. In May 1999 the High Court Division delivered a verdict declaring hartal to be a “political right” but adding that “violence and coercion” for or against hartal constituted a criminal offense and ordered law enforcers to take legal action. Hearing an appeal on this verdict the Appellate Division, in November 2007, overturned part of the judgment saying violence and coercion during hartal should be handled through the existing CRPC and the penal code, and not be termed as “criminal offense.”
Till today citizens have not gotten any redress for the crimes committed during hartals, including loss of life. Therefore we think time has come to revisit this issue. Let the political parties enjoy their “rights” to call hartals. But let them compensate the people who suffer the violent consequences of such programmes through deaths, destruction to property and loss of personal freedom.
A core premise of dispensation of justice is that individuals or entities are held responsible for all the intended and unintended consequences of actions they take. Today political parties call hartals but nobody can be held accountable for the consequences of such a hartal. Ruling party activists also indulge in violence by attacking opposition activists which leads to injuries and deaths. In all cases political parties instigating such activities must be held responsible and accountable. Without accountability there cannot be any rule of law.
We had hoped that political parties — especially the AL and BNP — based on their own experiences, would reach a consensus about abolishing hartals. They have failed us on that score. Even our legislative branch, the Sangsad, has never taken any notice of the destructive consequences of hartal.
Today, we have no alternative but to turn to the judiciary again for the protection of the fundamental rights of the citizens.