The hartal of 3rd January called by sangh parivar bodies in protest against the entry of two young women to Sabarimala in the small hours of 2nd January, was marked by two special features. The first is the scale of violence witnessed which was unprecedented in Kerala in recent times. And secondly, there was visible and widespread popular resistance to hartal violence.
The general strike of Thursday was the sixth in the series of hartals on Sabarimala issue, within four months. Every body knows the background of the new controversy about Sabarimala. i.e. the 28th September verdict by Supreme Court allowing the plea by petitioners for allowing women of all ages to enter Sabarimala. Equally known to every one is the fact that the court order cannot be superceded by acts like burning tyres on roads, stoning buses, looting shops, denying people their right to travel and pelting stones at the police. But then it is the followers of the party ruling the country that resort to such a strike against a Supreme Court order.
Of all the hartals observed on Sabarimala, the one of Thursday was the most violent, and the instances of violence were apparently not spontaneous. The rehearsal for this was done on Wednesday itself. Calls for violence by sangh parivar leaders were posted in Facebook. And the state-wide use of force of Thursday has to be viewed as a continuation of that. There is a clear conspiracy behind this. Therefore, those who directly took part in it, the people who instigated it and those who were party to the conspiracy all deserve to be brought to trial.
Along with the common man, the section bearing the brunt of hartal is the business and industrial community. Unable to bear it any longer, they had met at Kozhikode on 20th December and decided not to co-operate with hartals any more. That is to say, those who are in favour of a hartal and the demands raised through it were free to observe it, but they would no more down the shutters right on hearing the call for a hartal. They also decided to observe 2019 as an anti-hartal year. It is interesting that on day three itself of such a year a hartal arrived. In a way, the strike of Thursday also had the speciality as the first one after the decision by the business organizations. They decided to keep their shops and business centres open and requested the chief minister to provide security. Shops were opened in compliance with the decision, but those who could not risk the adventure kept their shutters down. The fact is that the police failed to keep their word that they would provide security to those who wanted to open shop. The sangh parivar workers committed extensive attacks on shops including those in SM Street in Kozhikode. It was only due to the stiff organized resistance by shopkeepers and locals that the attackers dispersed. This caused a tense situation in Edappal and Aluva too. On the whole, Thursday was a day that reflected the popular sentiment against uncalled for hartals.
Perhaps never before did mediapersons have to face such a number of attacks against them. Ever since the day when the Sabarimala controversy arose, journalists have been subjected to rampant assaults – and that included attacks on female journalists from the national media as well. On Wednesday, over 15 mediapersons were manhandled in different places, and in Thiruvananthapuram this was executed as if it were part of a plan. The job done by journalists is informing the publilc of what happens in the country. If the sangh parivar targets them, that means they are committing acts that they do not want the people to know. The mediapersons reacted to this mob violence by boycotting the news conferences by BJP leaders. Viewed from a professional angle, boycotting the words of anybody is not a right course. But one has to understand the situation that forced the mediapersons to take such a course of action.
It is incumbent on the state government to take severe punitive action against those who indulged in violence in the name of hartal. As things stand, there is a critical observation against the Left government that it is taking a soft approach to sangh parivar's attacks. The government should not repeat the approach that would vindicate this reading. Those who tried to sow seeds of riot in the land, should be mercilessly punished.