Sept 12, 2018

My phone beeped. A notification popped up on my phone. Scrolling my finger though the message, I groaned. It was an official message from my school conveying the fact that we were going to have school on Saturday.

So this Saturday as the rest of the world enjoys a much needed weekend, my classmates and I will spend six hours away at school. And you might ask why?

This Monday, a strike was held protesting about the hike in petrol prices in India. Everything was shut down- schools, colleges, work places, shops everything- a Bharat bandh true to its name. It was a tremendous blow to all, and resulted in the waste of an entire day. There were enormous losses all over. And our school, to compensate was going to take a piece out of our weekend, and hold school on Saturday.

Tragedy, tragedy, nothing but tragedy. How are young but still socially and sleepily productive students such as myself supposed to live peaceful lives if the government keeps on interfering our sleeping schedules with strikes?

As a typical student, an extra day of school plus the loss of my weekend (read extra sleep) enraged me. No Saturday, more school, more homework!

Who decided to hold a strike and why? What had fuelled the protests? I needed a report that looked like the entire Amazon jungle was used to print, to justify the loss of my weekend. So after a fuelled speech to no one in particular, I turned to Google.

The strike it seems was called for by the opposition party against rising fuel prices. NGO’s and other organizations were also persuaded to join the protests. The protest was meant to be peaceful and was intended to not disrupt normal life.

But is that what happened? Yeah right, NO WAY! In hours, the real motive was forgotten and discarded like books after an exam. In a few hours, the whole ‘peace’ thing was completely done with. Buses were getting burnt, violence broke on the streets, and roads were blocked. In short, the agenda of ‘not disrupting normal life’ was nothing short of irony.

What even are strikes?
A strike is the refusal by workers to work, in order to pressurize the management to accept their demands. Strikes are a basic right which allows an individual to refuse to perform their obligations in protest. Typically it’s a last resort when all democratic methods prove to be futile.

And for ordinary people, the right to strike is a comfort. It shows us that whenever we feel like justice is amiss, we can ensure our voices are heard.

But what happens when strikes are used as a politic tactic- a sly move to cause mere disruption?

When strikes like these are held, does anyone really gain by them? Except a little political drama, content for tomorrows breaking news, a little ‘relevance’ time, is there anything really achieved?

For example, on Monday’s events, the government’s response to a whole lot of power play, destruction and a waste of a whole day was… Nothing. In fact, petrol prices rose across country with Mumbai paying the highest at around 88 rupees. How is that for a response?!
Strikes have always been found to cause more damage than good in a country like ours. It harms the nation, the community, the workers, individuals as well as organizations. During the period of strike, production comes to a standstill. Sales are stagnant or an entire day. Transport sector slumps. The workers remain idle during the period. Their jobs are threatened. It’s worse for daily laborers. Petrol prices don’t matter to them when they haven’t got anything on their plate for dinner.

And that’s not all. Millions of man-hours go waste. Man-power, money, material resources, and machines everything remains idle and this constitutes a loss. And India is known for this kind of strikes. The strikes where cars have their windshields broken, buses are set to fire, people are beaten on the streets and shops broken into. In what universe is justice given by wreaking havoc and violence? And shouldn’t something be done to curb this?

However, here comes another conflict. Our country is a democratic one. The right to strike is one of the basic rights given to us the constitution. If this right to strike is taken away from the workers, will they be left at the mercy of the management with no recourse to justice?

But what happens when strikes endanger the very functioning of our democracy. So what is done then?

In Monday’s incident, a young girl succumbed to her injuries and died as the ambulance couldn’t reach the hospital in time due to the strike. Innocent bystanders were attacked by enraged protesters. People with plans and places to be were stranded at bus stations, and airports. What was their fault? Why were they getting harassed? This young girl did not control petrol prices or govern national decisions. You cannot protest because of a grievance and simultaneously cause one.

Strikes can be done peacefully. The entire country does not need to be bought to a standstill. In places like Japan, protests are done calmly. For example, when an issue with bus fares was on the rise, bus drivers protested by making fares free for that day. The company suffered a loss and immediately set right the issue. This is just one example. Peaceful struggles don’t disrupt life and at the same time are effective.

Strikes today have acquired a bad name because politicians and unscrupulous leaders have virtually hijacked the trade union and they use worker’s grievances to further their own career and sometimes, even to blackmail industrialists. Petty grievances, passive aggressiveness, political drama and the sole reason to make the headlines again have become reasons for strikes. Strikes should be a resort when negations fail, not a method to keep the entire country at ransom. Breaking government property and causing harm to another person’s life isn’t a right.

And its high time that people who cause damage, while hiding behind the curtain of ‘civic right’, be penalized

So I’ll go to school this Saturday. But I hope its for the last time.


-Adyesha Singhdeo