Sunday, May 01, 2011

Hartal or no hartal, we will go to work

Despite the threat of violence, many women venture out to work on a hartal day, April 30, to keep the home fires burning and the economy humming

Photo: This is a representative picture

By Shevlin Sebastian

In earlier times, whenever a hartal would be announced by a political party, Lakshmi Rao would have beads of perspiration on her face. She worked in an office near the Town Hall and hated to miss work. But Lakshmi stayed near the market in Kadavanthra, Kochi. The distance was too far to walk, especially during the summer.

But one day, a couple of years ago, a neighbour, who worked at Kacheripady, offered a simple solution. “Follow me,” she said. And the duo walked a short distance to reach the Ernakulam Junction railway station. There they waited for the Venad Express. When the train arrived, they hopped on and reached the Town station.

“No tension at all,” says Lakshmi, as she reached her office easily. However, it was not easy on the purse. “The train ticket cost Rs 14, while the bus fare is only Rs 4,” says Lakshmi. She pauses, and says, with a look of worry, “When will political parties stop giving hartal calls?”

Nirmala Lilly has no such worries. The Head of Sales and Marketing at a five-start deluxe resort in Kochi, she drives her I 20 Santro car boldly to work. “I am in the hospitality industry,” she says. “The guest is God. He or she needs round the clock service. How can I sit at home peacefully?”

Once or twice, Nirmala has been stopped by hoodlums but she has smiled sweetly at them, and said, “A close relative of mine is sick in the hospital and I have to go and give food.” They have allowed her through. Only once she was stopped and told to go back. “That was because I was only 300 metres away from my home and the boys knew me,” says Prema. But the spirited professional just turned around and took another road to work.

Malini U, a travel executive, is also a bold woman. She has gone to office on her two-wheeler on every hartal day. “I love working, and hate to stay at home,” she says. “On the road I have seen many goondas. But they tend to stare rather than scare me.”

Once, she was stopped and Malini blithely said, “I have to go to the doctor.” And they let her go.

At 11 a.m. at Palarivattom, yesterday, Mary Varghese, 54, is on her way back home to Chakkaraprambil Road, near Vytilla. “I left at 7 a.m. and it took me 45 minutes by walking to reach my place of work.” She is a cleaner at physician Benny Thomas' clinic. “The doctor let me off early because of the hartal,” she says.

And so, despite the goondas and thugs who enforce a hartal though the threat of violence, there are a few women, by train, car, two-wheeler and on foot, who are willing to go to work, to keep the home fires burning. Pity, the octogenarian Chief Minister, V.S. Achuthanandan, who allows the state to suffer losses of crores of rupees because he still uses an outmoded form of protest: the hartal.

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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