By Aarashi Gunaratnam –
Today is the day of the Hartal. It was called for by the TNA and Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam’s outfit, the TNPF, says a news portal favorable to the TNA. It seems to have been a success insofar as most shops are closed. But I have a sense of foreboding over this. A bus taking patients from Point Pedro to Jaffna was stoned, bringing all bus services to a halt. Who are these violence-prone youth who stoned the bus? Are we going back to our violent past? Are the TNA and the TNPF in trying to outdo each other, letting the violent genie out of the bottle again?
Hartals are meant to score a political point and perhaps even damage the opponent. This one is to protest the non-release of political prisoners as solemnly promised by the government. But I do not see how this puts any pressure on the government except to show that there is support for the release of the prisoner. Many of the prisoners, it is said, sold pappadams and broomsticks for the LTTE while the really violent ones have paid their way out to freedom or are free after selling their souls to the Rajapaksas. Indeed, the idea that some of them have been imprisoned without charge for over 15 years is something that no civilised people can countenance. The cause is good and the point is made. The government must take note.
But at what cost is this Hartal? The stone throwing incident should give us pause and make us rethink strategy. For, the other side of the Hartal is a fiasco. Let it not be forgotten that most of us living in the North are being hurt by the Hartal. Trains to the North have been suspended causing great inconvenience. School children and university students have a free holiday but have lost a day of their studies. Daily paid workers will never have their lost wages made up. Taxi, bus and trishaw operators will never make up their income lost from today. The inconvenience to travellers is made worse by the fact that it is raining cats and dogs with a few streets flooded. Restaurants will not have meal-sales lost today being made up tomorrow. Indeed, it is telling that many restaurants have a single door open and are selling meal packets while openly cursing the boycott. Today being Friday, the customary meal packets with lots of curry have trimmed fare with no paayaasam and no buryani option for fear that what they cook will not be sold.
I think the only enthusiastic supporters of the boycott are salaried personnel who will get their full month’s pay without today’s wages being cut, irresponsible students glad of an extra holiday, diaspora Tamils who will have another news item to read, and fat-cat politicians who will face no inconvenience because they live in Colombo and have luxury cars with drivers paid by the government.
This is political football all over again. The TNA and the TNPF are prisoners of their own politics. They cannot afford not to call for the boycott for the fear that the other will get credit. Even Douglas Devananda is on the prisoner bandwagon, visiting the prisoners as if he cared.
To protest on behalf of the prisoners is good. But there must be a sensible way to do it. Surely we must find a better way to make our points than to cut our nose to spite our face (or to use a colorful Tamil phrase, than to refuse to wash our behinds because we are angry with the pond).
I take heart from the only silver lining this time. It is that there is no LTTE to shoot such desperate persons as who do business quietly so as not to lose their livelihood, and the army is not there beating up shopkeepers into keeping their doors open. We have come far from that ugly past. Let us not go back to it.