Mangalore was not its hectic best this past Thursday. 'Deserted' perhaps, is the right expression to caption the city's scenario on the day. The reason – the Nationwide Bandh protesting against the withdrawal of the decision to hand over forest land to Amarnath Shrine Trust by the Jammu and Kashmir Government.
On the face of it, it may give one the impression that the entire city extended its support to the Bandh. But in reality that perhaps is not the case, which was made evident in a couple of cases by some of the activists of the organizers of the Bundh themselves who were blocking vehicles and pelting stones on open shops. Incidents of forcefully maintaining emptiness and violence during the bundh have been reported in Mumbai and several other parts of the country as well. By forcing things, one cannot really claim the 'success' of bundhs.
We often see headlines such as 'Bundh Successful' in papers. It sometimes does feel like a sarcastic statement printed in big and bold fonts. Sarcastic, because majority of the people living in the city and who read these headlines, never really wanted to extend their support to the bundh. The truth is that most of them could not carry out their work just as any other day because the transport facilities were absolutely nil. Bundhs in Mangalore never happen for reasons that can mark a positive change in the society. Never was a bundh called for when farmers went on a suicide spree. Neither was a bundh organized agitating the rise in commodity prices. Somehow, it is the only the so called 'religious sentiment' factor that a few extreme forces fight for, that has actually been associated with bundhs in the city in the recent past. The reason why these bundhs have a telling effect on the city is that these extreme forces have the bus owners and the auto rickshaw drivers in their pockets. When these don't function, technically, the city doesn't function.
Before actually talking about the 'success' of bundhs, one must know the features of a bundh and the definition of a bundh. A bundh is not a mandatory order. A citizen can either support it or not depending on his feeling and can carry out his day to day business, unlike say, a curfew, where every citizen is 'ordered' not to come out of the house and pursue his work. Therefore, in bundhs, a citizen cannot be forced to support the bundh or viceversa. But as mentioned earlier, we see activists forcing people to support bundhs and threatening to hurt them if they don't. This is precisely the reason why we hear of violence during bundhs.
Most of the populace in the city is the middle and lower middle class, both depending highly on their day to day business affairs to earn bread. A fair chunk of populace is below the poverty line and quite a few depend on their daily wages for survivial. Surely, these people might never want to miss a single day of their work for if they do, they may have to starve that night. Clearly, such a majority of people would not want to see a bundh, that can cost them their bread. But since transport, that is the lifeline of any city, comes to a standstill, people are left with no option but to stay at home.
Besides, bundhs, when organized by fanatic and extreme forces, always have a 'fear factor' among the people. "Such bundhs may turn violent. Although I don't know what percentage of people voluntarily supported the bundh, fair percentage of people did not go about their day to day activities in order to avoid trouble. But it certainly hurts general public. Nowadays, when inflation is going up and prices rising, it really has a great effect on the working community" says Arun Kumar, Project Manager, CNA, Mangalore.
Re-inforcement of the 'fear factor' comes from Shekhar, an auto rickshaw driver. "I earn, therefore I live. I wouldn't want to miss my daily income. But who wants to risk damage to vehicle and other damages if I go out on a bundh day? So we're forced to sit at home with fear. Something has happened somewhere far away, and we face the music here" discloses Shekhar.
Quite clearly, the Mangalorean attitude has changed over the years. We would hardly have bundhs in Mangalore in the past. There has definitely been a paradigm shift in the approach of the Mangaloreans. The city is letting a limited few dictate terms every now and then. Mangalore seriously needs to ask itself, whether it is just being 'too careful' or whether it is drifting towards…cowardice.