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Bandh and picketing, the so-called democratic means of protest, may be a thing of past, in the near future. The north-eastern states are having less of them now compared to two decades ago. Curfew was almost a normal phenomenon in Assam during the violence-marred anti-influx agitation in the 80’s. Same time, Meghalaya was burning too. While bandhs were called by agitating groups, the government called curfew to restore normalcy. In both situations, common people were the sufferers. Those days are missing, thankfully. However, there are still some pockets in this region where bandhs are a regular affair. Gone are the days of mass killings and village burnings in Assam’s only two hill districts – Karbi Anglong and Dima Hasao (formerly North Cachar Hills). But people from outside (even within the state) try to doubly confirm if there was any strike in the region before heading towards them. Garo Hills in Meghalaya is another bandh-hit region. A Garo militant outfit is yet to withdraw its over-two-month-long bandh from one district headquarters, Ampati. If an outsider ventures into such regions without getting the ‘news’, he is most likely to get trapped mid way! However, the overall situation is much better compared to the past.

The other day, Guwahati defied an Assam bandh called by two-time ruling Asom Gana Parishad in protest against the land swap agreement against Bangladesh. It is not that AGP is a spent force now and the people dared to defy their diktat, but it is the need of the city to work every day, every night. Being the hub of seven north-eastern states, Guwahati cannot afford any bandh. Crores will go down the drain if such a city stops moving for an entire day. Even the people of Ampati could not take it any longer. They started coming out, attending their offices and businesses.

Another incident of people’s defiance to such calls is the ongoing office picketing by Hills State People’s Democratic Party (HSPDP) demanding immediate passage to a Village Administration Bill, which the government sees as “anti-national”. Almost all the state government offices did not pay any heed to the HSPDP’s call for office picketing while the banks and, interestingly, many Central government offices chose not to take the ‘risk’. Bandh is a great loss to the economy, affecting all the citizens including the protesters. Although there are arguments in favour of this so-called democratic means of protest, it has become a tool of showing one-upmanship and needs to be done away with.

(Published as editorial in The Meghalaya Guardian on May 15, 2015)

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