10 February 2007

Bangalore Bandh

Since being in India, bandh is a word I’ve come across already many times. Before we even arrived, a friend in Calcutta warned us that we’d be arriving in the midst of a two-day bandh or general strike which was planned to take place across West Bengal and that taxis would be hard to find or only at inflated prices. Luckily the strike was called off at the last minute, sparing us of a potential transportation nightmare.

Bangalore has seen a fair share of violent demonstrations lately. In January there was a series of demonstrations (one protesting the hanging of Saddam Hussain) and marches by communal groups which quickly turned violent with buses being set on fire, and the police coming down on protestors with their lathis and even opening fire and killing a young boy.

On Monday afternoon when the Supreme Court announced its much awaited decision in the Cauvery water dispute, memories of the violent demonstrations that followed the previous ruling seven years ago prompted businesses to pull down their metal shutters and close early for the day. By mid-afternoon, the city's roads were clogged with traffic as office workers rushed home before any trouble started.

That evening, a neighbour warned us that a bandh may be called the next day in protest to the ruling which many feel is unfair to the state of Karnataka. He advised us to go to the market and stock up on enough food for two days and to read the paper the next morning before stepping out, to get some insight on the situation. The supermarket was still open so we bought a few things which we don’t need to keep in the fridge (since we don’t have one just yet). We also bought some pomegranates and pineapple from the fruit and vegetable market which was making a swift pre-bandh business.

When we collected the paper from our doorstep on Tuesday morning, it reported only minor incidents despite the warnings and rumours of violence in the city centre. As the morning fog cleared, it was business as usual although some businesses decided to take a cautious approach and remain closed. Later in the day there was talk of a bandh being announced for Thursday which was then postponed by the authorities to next Monday to avoid disruption to the Aero India 2007 air show taking place this week. I imagine that Monday’s strike will bring the city to a virtual standstill with offices and businesses closed and buses and trains off the roads. In this 24-hour society where everything seems available virtually all the time, I can’t imagine what this will be like. I also wonder how to spend the day… I guess it won’t be a good day to buy that fridge.

No comments :