You are now 4 years old, old enough to know what a holiday means.
Your experience in life so far, makes you believe that a ‘Bandh’ means a holiday. You don’t think that the two could be different. Don’t worry. At 35, even I mostly fail to distinguish between them. “So, what is the difference?” you ask.
We – you and me – seem to have some close connection with bandhs. I was at Hyderabad when you were born in a town in Tamil Nadu. As I travelled to see you for the first time, I was stopped at the Andhra Pradesh – Tamil Nadu border. A bandh had been declared in Tamil Nadu on that day, in protest against a judgment of the Supreme Court. It was a state-sponsored bandh. No, not state-sponsored terrorism. We don’t do that, Pakistan does that. This is different. No, I may not be able to exactly say what the difference is. Your questions often expose my ignorance. Anyway, it was a state-sponsored bandh, so everything was shut-down. I explored a new town, waiting for the bandh to come to an end, and got to see you for the first time after what appeared an eternal delay.
Bandh, Strike, Civil Disobedience. Figuring out the etymology, researching on their origin, history, and evolution, requires skills, abilities and effort, which I am incapable of. Instead, I will try to explain them to you in a way that I can. Irrespective of whether it is right or wrong, in the way I want you to see them.
It takes two hands to clap. As you grow older, you will realize that you will need the help of other people to lead your life normally. Just like how today you need your mom to cook for you and feed you, your bus driver to take you to school, your teacher to help you with your learning, and your friends for play, so on. It doesn’t change much.
And in the process of seeking help from others, you will also be obliged to helping a few. That is the way it works – You will help some, and seek help from some.
Sometimes when you are unhappy or annoyed with someone, or feel that someone has done injustice to you, you don’t feel like helping them, irrespective of how much they may be able to help you in return. You just don’t feel like or want to cooperate with them. And you don’t. That’s what bandh is all about. You simply refuse to help others, risking both your interests and their interests, hoping that they would see how their desires cannot be fulfilled without help from you, and force them to agree to give you what you want.
You already do that with me. Remember, you refuse to speak to me when you are angry with me, refusing me the pleasure of enjoying a few happy moments playing with you? Well, that’s bandh at your level.
That is what I understood, that is what I believed. That is what I remember our elders did during the freedom struggle. Thus for a bandh to be legitimate, you must be in a position where you can help the other person, and choose not to help that person.
Today, however, it has become slightly different. It would seem that what I believe is different from what I am being told, which is again very different from what I see.
Today, bandh does not mean refusing to help or cooperate. Instead, it is more about preventing those who can help from helping. It has become decibel driven, with crowd as its strength, as opposed to conviction. It has come to mean forcible closure of schools, colleges, banks, offices, shops, establishments; and limited public transport means. It is treated as a show of strength, display of might. At times, the forcible closure is also telecast in television channels as News. Crime, if one does it, revolution, if many do it!
Government, Police and Administration, do not consider these forcible closures as a symbol of their incompetence, failure or weakness. No one considers that these constitute a failure to discharge the constitutional responsibility of protecting citizens and their interests. Well, they have their own problems, limitations, reasons and justifications. Inconvenience to a few inconsequential people can wait.
And how much I wish to tell you that surprisingly, wine shops are rarely closed during bandhs.
Anyway, I am sharing these things with you, because I feel that it is important for you to get familiarized with bandhs, as we are becoming a nation obsessed with bandhs. Price rise, corruption, farmer suicides, unhappy with court judgment, negligent doctors, hike in school fees, local player dropped from national cricket team – for anything and everything, bandh is a universal solution. A national pastime. It would therefore help, if you understood bandhs better.
As much as I wish that you get to know bandhs better, I must confess that I fail miserably in understanding them. They insultingly expose how powerless I am, how inconsequential I am. Of how I have allowed my rights, feelings and entitlements to be trampled upon. Of how I have erred, allowed myself to be belittled. Of how I have allowed myself to be treated like a pawn in a game of chess between multiple, dubious, self-serving groups playing for their selfish ends.
And it is not me alone, but my entire generation is guilty of this. We haven’t cared. We have been too busy with ourselves. We were too focused on what we were accumulating for you, that we failed to notice what we are actually passing on to you. We haven’t been wise to stand up for you. We haven’t been courageous enough to fight for you and preserve your rights. We didn’t stop to check the tumor till it was diagnosed as cancer. And now, we may be terminally ill. Worse, I am afraid, we may never be able to do it for you and your generation. They remind me about how I and my generation are failing you.
While I try to come to terms with this reality, hoping to explore what we can salvage for you, at this moment, I have nothing to offer to you, except my apologies. So, forgive us, my son. Our lapses were both out of ignorance, and lack of desire and will.