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The futility of Bandhs

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Late on Friday, pro-Kannada activists with tacit support of the state government announced that Bangalore would remain ‘bandh’ the next day to protest the Mahadayi River tribunal’s interim order, although it is common knowledge that bandhs have seldom served to alter the course of judicial thought. Alongside, the government stated that despite the bandh, which might cripple transportation and many other services in the city, hospitals could continue to run as usual! Such a statement could be attributed only to a lack of understanding of hospitals. Nobody is disputing the cause here; it is only the means that is in question.

img How pray can a hospital ‘run’ without doctors, nurses, paramedics and the scores of other professionals who must assemble there to make it work? How can hospitals work without supplies (some of which could be life-saving) which need to be transported to them? Are we so ignorant of the fact that people and supplies must reach a hospital to make its facilities functional, which in turn calls for transport services, all of which were to be shut down as part of the bandh? Right through the day with no buses, taxis or autos in sight and all its shops and offices shut, the city wore an eerie look, fearful of street violence that kept all but the bravest of Bangaloreans indoors.

In the meantime, even as city slipped into a coma, at hospitals across Bangalore hundreds of patients remained cut off from expert attention that many of them might have needed. Many lives were put to unnecessary risk just so some political points could be scored by riding a wave of popular emotion.

Contrast this with what I experienced in Germany way back in 1994 when as a fellow of micro neurosurgery at the Krankenhaus Nordtstud hospital in Hanover I watched in awe the telling impact that a two-minute protest can have on governments that are responsive, responsible and willing to listen. “There is going to be a lock down (bandh) tomorrow,” I was told on a day I can never forget. As an Indian to me that meant ‘holiday’ and so I woke up around 8 the next morning, had a leisurely breakfast and dropped by at the hospital just to check, at least an hour late.

Imagine my consternation therefore, when instead of a deserted facility in a state of bandh what confronted me was a hospital bustling with life, with doctors, nurses and everyone else going about their business with their usual zeal. “Had I got the date wrong,” I heard asking myself in disbelief. “No, today is indeed the bandh,” someone confirmed. I briskly got into my apron and joined the action as on any other day, still not sure how this was a bandh by any definition. My questions were answered at exactly 12 noon, when the entire staff of the hospital assembled at a point, silently took off their aprons and stethoscopes and placed them on the ground. For two minutes there was complete silence and then they were all back in full swing.

The bandh was over! In two telling minutes the doctors had made their point. What followed was even more of an eye-opener: Within a day of the widely covered protest, the government engaged with the doctors, heard them with an open, compassionate mind and resolved their issues amicably. Life in the meantime had gone on unhindered. To me this is democratic protest at its quintessential best: collective, peaceful, humane and effective. Do we have to paralyze a whole city for a full day inflicting untold economic loss and human misery to register our protest?

Provided we as a people wish to individually and collectively find solutions in a democratic way, then two minutes should be more than enough. Of course, this will call for, honest and responsive governments, committed to working for the larger good of people rather than scoring cheap political points. Surely, in the land of Mahatma Gandhi who taught the world the power of peaceful, non-violent protest, we can find more humane and effective ways to fight for our causes – ways that are in larger public interest and do not hurt the weak and the needy.

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Guest Tuesday, 26 September 2017