against the hartal were never so loud as it is now. People
from all walks of life especially the businessmen, the garments
owners or the importers and exporters, the students, the professionals
are calling for an end to this vicious hartal cycle. Recently
UNDP has chipped in with quite a voluminous publication titled
"Beyond Hartal, Towards Democratic Dialogue in Bangladesh"
to join in this denunciation.
examines the various aspects of the hartal phenomenon--its
origin, its changing features over the years, its economic
cost, its effectiveness and general people's view of it--with
an aim to find out a workable solution to this problem that
has been dogging Bangladesh for far too long.
the history of Hartal chapter the writer relates the circumstances
that led to the first major and memorable if not exactly the
first hartal on August 7 in 1905. At the time termed 'boycott'
it was enforced to protest the partition of Bengal by Lord
Curzon. However, the first hartal in its own name was called
in 1919 by Gandhi to protest the Rowlatt Bill, an act which
the Imperial Legislative Council passed to curb terrorism.
In the following years as the anti colonial movement was intensifying
hartals were used as an effective tool of protest on different
occasions. The colonial rule ended but hartals survived and
in fact escalated in frequency across most of the South Asian
countries. While Bangladesh certainly tops the list in terms
of the frequency of hartals India where hartal is known as
bandh is in the second place, closely followed by
depicting the historical background of hartals the author
has taken on the Herculean task of documenting the number
of hartals from 1947 to 2002 and then showing how many were
called in different parts of the country, how many were called
every five years and how many were called by whom. Interestingly,
more hartals have been observed since democracy was restored
in 1991 than the military rule of Zia and Ershad. While there
were some 345 hartals from 1979 to 1990, there were 279 hartals
from 95 to 98 and 332 from 99 to 02.
we have been paying dearly for hartals. Though it is nearly
impossible to work out the exact amount of monetary loss some
attempts have been made to calculate the economic cost of
hartals in terms of the forgone output, employment and lost
earnings. According to the report, the average cost of hartals
to the economy during the 90's is 3 to 4% of the GDP. The
report also mentions the key sectors namely the export sector,
particularly the readymade garments (which accounts for 76%
of the country's foreign exchange earning), the transport,
retail and small business sector which suffer most because
of hartals. Apart from the loss of export earning due to missing
of the deadline Bangladesh is earning the bad name of becoming
an unreliable market, which is undoubtedly going to have negative
impact on the future of our garment industry.
major area that is badly affected by hartals is the education
sector. Since movement during a hartal day involves great
risk almost all sorts of schools, colleges and universities
remain closed during hartals. Classes are disrupted and consequently
the syllabus is not completed, examinations are postponed
that often result in lingering session jam and the regular
rhythm of studies is disturbed. Interviews with a large number
of students, teachers and guardians from a number of educational
institutions reveal an overwhelming disapproval of hartals.
the educational institutions have adopted different strategies
to cope with hartal induced disruptions, creating another
series of problems in the process. Some schools and universities
are kept open on weekly holidays to make up the missed classes
on hartals, but, many of the students and teachers interviewed
feel this way of compensation upset their social life by occupying
their weekends. Besides, especially at the university level,
hartals often lengthen the academic year inflicting extra
financial burden on individual families. The report then presents
a set of probable solutions including those offered by heads
of various educational institutions. A prominent one is lobbying
with politicians on the part of the civil society, students
groups, teachers and parents to keep educational institutions
outside the purview of hartals.
legal dimensions of hartals has been scrutinised at great
length in a piece headlined "Hartals and the Law".
The article cites the international human rights treaties,
the UDHR ( Universal Declaration of Human Rights), the ICCPR
( International Convenant on Civil and Political rights) both
of which Bangladesh is a signatory to, as well as article
37 and 39 (2) of the constitution of Bangladesh that enshrine
citizen's right to freedom of opinion and expression, freedom
of assemble, and the freedom to seek, receive and impart information
and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers , either orally,
in writing or in print among others. The article also cites
a couple of cases, one in India ( Bharat Kumar vs State of
Kerala) and the other in Bangladesh (Khondaker Modarresh Elahi
vs The Government of the People's Republic of Bangladesh 1999).
So, taking the issue to the court hasn't and perhaps will
not yield any immediate solution.
is the way out then? Most people agree that hartals are harmful.
Hartals not only devastate our economy, particularly our export
industry including the garment and cripple our education sector,
but also earn a bad name for the country deterring foreign
investors. Hartals as they are staged these days are far from
spontaneous as the hartal callers would have us believe. The
report under the title of "Anatomy of Hartal" reveals
how criminals, mastans and street children are hired to organise
hartals from plastering posters to participating in the procession
to picketing and from making bombs to pelting at the vehicles
if found within targets. In addition hartals have long lost
their legitimacy as part of a broad based social movement
to promote the development of society as a whole. Today hartals
are perceived to be serving largely the petty party interest
than any national concern.
are not exactly new discoveries and fortunately our politicians
who have remained blind to people's disappointment about hartals
so far somehow sseemed to have woken up to the reality and
started to think rationally. At least it seems so. Current
opposition parties have tried some peaceful alternatives to
hartals like the human chain which has created great hope
among the general people. The optimists want to see this development
of this novel form of protest as the beginning to the end
of the vicious cycle of hartals.
given the complex character of the problem any hasty, drastic
measure will only aggravate the crisis. The better option
will be a long term plan and to follow it patiently. The report
which has attempted to find out a means to get rid of this
self-destructive practice has some suggestions to offer. It
offers a two pronged strategy--implementing longer-term reforms
to strengthen the democratic institutions while introducing
and nurturing some of the more constructive alternative forms
of social mobilisation in the short term.
advance that way there will have to be a minimum level of
political consensus and good will on the part of the major
political parties. Side by side, the civil society, the business
community, different professional groups and the media will
have to act as the pressure group, suggests the report. The
report is well researched and well done. At the time of publication,
a series of focus group discussions on the idea of a possible
code of conduct for democratic dialogue have taken place.
The people behind this publication hope the report will act
as a catalyst to further dialogue on this issue.
(R) thedailystar.net 2005