Sunday, October 12, 2008

Bandhs, Strikes, Protests and Holidays II

[This follows the first part.]

Do Indians have a democratic right to protest?

Though India is now run by rulers who are people’s representatives, thus making the people indirectly accountable for the actions of its government, Indians still have a right to protest when things go wrong. Even in a democracy, the people representative’s may not work in the best interest of all individuals and groups. It is not humanly possible. Therefore we do encourage mechanisms to criticize, protest, dissent and disagree. Citizens in India have a right to protest – that’s our freedom. But we also have some duties which we cannot ignore while conducting those protests.

So, lets’ give ourselves a right to protest.

Now, can a worker not show up to work because he wants to protest? Yes. He has every right to abstain from work because he wants to go on a strike. Can the company which has hired him fire him for insubordination? Yes, it can. It has legal rights to fire the person who went on a strike. So, does it mean a worker can never go on a strike because now he risks losing job each time he protests?

This is where the groups (and other rights bodies) come in. As a group, the workers combine forces to bargain with the company, so that no individual risks his job. It is not in the best interest of the company to lose all the workers in one go. Therefore, the company is ready to negotiate. This is how we use group politics to bargain our position in a democracy. (Of course, there are unintended consequences for such politics).

Let’s agree we have a right to protest, and not show up for work, but that we have to face the consequences of our actions.

What comes next is what Buddhadeb talked about recently. Right to strike or protest is OK. But bandh is not OK. Shutting yourself off or not showing up at work is OK as we agreed. But do we have a right to impose bandh?

A bandh involves complete cessation of all activity, not only that of yours but also of others. That involves infringing upon other people’s rights, especially those who are not willing to participate in your protest. Road blocks are one such example. In a road block you deprive other people of their rights to have a normal life. You end up wasting other people’s time over which you have no jurisdiction. You cause inconvenience to other people at your expense. This is where bandh starts to work against basic tenets of our constitution. While India guarantees you a right to protest, it does not guarantee you a right to infringe upon others rights.

What about Singur plant problem in West Bengal?

Mamta Banerjee has called for many bandhs there and led to Tata moving out of West Bengal. Are Mamta Banerjee and her supporters within their legal rights to call a strike? Yes. But can they restrict or stop workers from going to their plant to earn their livelihood? No. Many workers could not show up at Tata plant because they were compelled into abstaining.

Strikes are OK. Protests are OK. But bandhs are NOT OK. Bandhs restrict other people from doing their job. Bandhs pull in people into participating in your non-cooperation protest without taking their permission. Most often, many people are inconvenienced even though they have not asked for it. Bandhs, rail rokos, rasta rokos, infringe upon other people’s rights. They are not sanctioned by the democratic right to protest.

1 comment:

  1. Couldnt agree more. Twisting great leaders' methods and practices to suit our own selfish purposes has long been the tradition - and doesnt look like its going to stop anytime.


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